Decision Apopka 2018


By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

In 2010, Apopka City Commissioner Billie Dean defeated Barb Zakszewski in the Seat #1 election with 1,164 votes (62%) to her 725 (38%). In the Seat #2 race, incumbent Marilyn Ustler-McQueen beat challenger Sam Ruth with 1,149 (61%) votes to Ruth’s 735 (39%).

Mayor John Land ran unopposed, and those three Apopka incumbents joined Commissioners Bill Arrowsmith, and Kathy Till back on the Apopka City Council.

What’s the relevance of that brief factoid of Apopka politics? It was the last time an incumbent won an election in Apopka.

In 2010, the Apopka City Council had a collective 131 years of experience sitting on the dais. Land (58 years), Arrowsmith (31), Dean (18), Ustler-McQueen (16), and Till (8) combined for what was quite possibly the most years in office of any municipality in the state. Now with the retirement of Dean, all five members of that Council will be a part of Apopka’s history, but not a part of its government.

Since 2014, four incumbents have run for re-election and lost. In 2014, Ustler-McQueen ran unsuccessfully against Commissioner Diane Velazquez, and Land lost to Mayor Joe Kilsheimer. In 2016, Arrowsmith lost to Commissioner Kyle Becker, and Commissioner Sam Ruth (who won an open seat in 2014), lost to Commissioner Doug Bankson. And while four straight losses may seem like an anomaly more than a trend, in municipal elections around the country, incumbents have won at a rate of 88%.

So how will the incumbents fare tomorrow?

All signs point to a close mayoral election. Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson won The Apopka Voice┬áReader’s polls in December, January, and February. He also led most of the way in a close fundraising matchup with Kilsheimer. However, mail-in-ballots and early voting are trending to a similar turnout model (5,000-6,000 votes cast) that propelled Kilsheimer over Land in 2014. There is simply not enough details to establish either candidate as the frontrunner.

In Seat #2, Velazquez and challenger Alice Nolan appear headed to a runoff. In a January and February poll conducted by The Apopka Voice, both candidates ran neck-and-neck and outdistanced first-time candidates Leroy Bell and Alicia Koutsoulieris. Velazquez and Nolan are also close in total contributions, which is often an indicator of success in local elections. Depending on the outcome of the mayor’s race, these two seem destined to decide this election in April. However, like the mayor’s race, there isn’t really enough evidence to call anyone a frontrunner.

There is no incumbent running for Seat #1. Six-term Commissioner Billie Dean is retiring, and the eventual winner will be a first-term commissioner. Suzanne Kidd has won all three Apopka Voice Reader’s Polls, and led in fundraising, but has never eclipsed 50% in any of the polls, which suggests this seat will also likely be won in a runoff. Gene Knight and Alexander Smith seem to be challenging for the second spot in the runoff, with Knight placing second in the December and January poll, and Smith taking second in the February poll and leading Knight in fundraising. Theresa Mott has been fourth in all three polls and third place in fundraising for Seat #1.

If the incumbents were to fall tomorrow, the City Commission would have gone from 131 years experience in Apopka elected office to only four years (Bankson 2 years, Becker two years, and three newcomers) in just eight years. It would also extend the incumbent losing streak to six.

So much for making term limits an addition to the City Charter.

But even if the incumbents are victorious, it still only gives the City Council 12 years of experience in office.

Tomorrow the 10 candidates get their report cards around 7 PM. And while this election cycle is difficult to predict, it seems crystal clear that Apopka is still experiencing political growing pains, and its voters are still sorting things out.

We will know a lot more by tomorrow evening Apopka.


  1. For fiscal integrity including NO 16% in the millage rate, and respect for CRA funds; sustainable economic growth that includes ALL COMMUNITIES AND ALL PEOPLE (ONE APOPKA); public safety that expands community relations; and quality youth programs and services, VOTE for SMITH, SEAT 1; BELL, SEAT 2;; and NELSON, MAYOR OF OUR BELOVED CITY OF APOPKA.

  2. Some of the current council members, and especially the current mayor, Mayor Kilsheimer, sure take the theory that they are the representatives elected to represent the citizens, and that form of government, the representative form of government….. They take that TOO literally! To them, they interpret it to mean, the citizens should be mimes, or faces with no voices, or opinions, they will decide whatever, and who are we to suggest things to them! Even in our neighboring cities, they have frequent referendums for their citizens to go vote on major decisions and issues that their citizens want, or don’t want…..not here in this city! And yes, other cities have the same representative type form of government too, in their cities, as in Apopka. Here, it is HIS way, or no way. Like the red light camera issue, for example! I even tried to get it where citizens given parking tickets would have more time to pay the fines, than only 5 business days, and I told the mayor that even the state gives people 30 days to pay a red light camera, and was I successful in my simple little request?….NO, his way or no way! Everybody here in this city doesn’t have a six figure salary, but he just doesn’t GET IT! This was when they were finalizing the new parking ordinance…….

    • Mayor Joe has the patented deep sigh and eye roll when you speak before the City Council when he has no liking of what the matter is that you took your time to go to the City Council Meeting to present an issue. Total disrespect for others from a man that has only one concern – HIMSELF

      • Mike, so far I have not appeared at City Council since the mid-80′ s when they discussed raising the millage rate. After that, I have been genuinely pleased up until very recently when the new regime was voted into office. I would certainly not like to be subjected to an eye roll and sigh from the chief executive. We will see tonight what our beloved City’s future holds.

  3. I am very open- minded in giving a person a chance to represent us. But if I am let down, or feel oppressed, or ignored, that is it, no more, as I will give someone else a chance the next go round, at the next election…..GOT IT?

  4. And that GIVE AWAY to the developer for the ramp to nowhere……that was a fortune, that the city should not of paid for! No wonder the city coffers are belly up!

  5. The arrogance and ego of Mayor Joe are way over the top, and he just doesn’t deserve another term as Mayor. We need to get back to a respected individual that brings credibility and stability to our fine city. Best of luck to Bryan Nelson to fulfill those aspirations!!


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