Analysis/Opinion

By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

Sometime after 7 PM tomorrow evening, the final piece of the electoral puzzle will be snapped into place and Apopka will know who is going to occupy Seat #2 on the city commission.

This concludes the Apopka election cycle for 2018. Thank you for your participation. See you in 2020.

Will it be 29-year-old upstart sixth-generation-Apopkan Alice Nolan or incumbent Commissioner Diane Velazquez? The two candidates have run a photo finish in both elections and polls all the way to the finish line, so it would be difficult to predict with any certainty, but a couple of clues have emerged in the time between the general election on March 13th and the runoff tomorrow.

Alice Nolan

Early Voting and mail-in-ballots

In the March 13th general election 2,628 voters either mailed-in or cast their ballots early. And of those 2,019 either voted for Nolan or Velazquez. In the runoff, there have been 1,856 early or mailed-in ballots received at the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office, and the vast majority of those are probably the same voters that voted for the two candidates in the general. And with two days of mail yet to be collected, the likelihood is this runoff will reach the 2,019 that it did in the general election,

Of those early votes in March, Velazquez received 1,015 votes, while Nolan received 1,004.

Election Day voting

Nolan overcame her small deficit from mail-in/early voting because 1,474 voters turned-out on election day to vote for her in comparison to Velazquez with 1,315. However, the likelihood that 2,789 voters will turn out in a one-seat runoff election with no mayoral candidates on the ballot is slim. But if the razor-thin margin of the previous early voting is mirrored in this runoff, those voters that turn out tomorrow will effectively decide who wins.

But who has the momentum headed into election day?

The campaign after the campaign

Apopka City Commissioner Diane Velazquez

Runoffs are a scary time for incumbents. The last three runoffs in Apopka that involved incumbents ended up losing to the challenger. And it’s especially problematic for incumbents who did not win the general election.

But Velazquez has run a shrewd campaign since the runoff began which included three key statements on social media that may have kept her chances of winning alive.

The first was two days after Seat #1 candidate Suzanne Kidd shocked Apopka politics by announcing her resignation from her runoff against Alexander Smith. There was speculation that Velazquez might follow suit with Kidd and resign, but in a statement on her Facebook page two days later, Velazquez said this:

“One week after Apopka’s local elections, conversations and social media comments about the outcome and the recent unexpected withdrawal by a candidate have dominated the discussion. However, one Seat (#2) remains in the runoff Election set for Tuesday, April 10th.”

Velazquez was clearly a supporter of Mayor Joe Kilsheimer both on the City Council and in the election. She shared Kilsheimer’s vision, but in her March 22nd post made it clear she was ready to work with Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson.

“I have 21 years of experience in law enforcement, and I worked under three mayors, and eight police commissioners. A change of administrations is common in public sectors. It is my experience and I truly believe in American democracy. It’s the reason why elections are held and voters choose their representatives. In my first term as Commissioner, I have served all of Apopka with integrity and ongoing effort to engage our residents in the process of governing our City. This election cycle did just that. Apopka voters have chosen Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson to lead our City forward. I personally congratulated him on his win. Each Commissioner elected brings a voice and strength to help build a stronger and growing Apopka, and I will continue to serve the residents of Apopka with integrity; honesty and transparency. Apopka is our family home, too.
On Tuesday, April 10th, I respectfully ask for your continued support & VOTE. Thank you.”

Then when Nelson announced the choice of Edward Bass as City Commissioner, Velazquez praised the choice.

 “Congratulations to Eddie Bass returning to Apopka City Hall as the new City Administrator,” she said. “I enjoyed working with him on the committee for the Miss Apopka Pageant.”

Velazquez has attended nearly every event held in Apopka since the runoff began, and drew applause from a crowd of about 400 residents at the special City Council meeting held at the Apopka Community Center for the New Errol project for these closing remarks:

“This has been a very long process for many of us up here on the Council. Two years in the making. Speaking with residents and getting emails and texts and hours I have spent with Signature H going over the project was important, but listening to the public comments was the most impactful to me. You as the community and the residents have spoken. This is what you want. And what we are up here to do is to give you what you want.”

Nolan has kept a low profile in the time between the general and runoff elections, but has outraised Velazquez $9,900 to $250.00 and outspent her opponent $11,199.25 to $840.97 during that period, and her signage still seems to be more prominent in Apopka than Velazquez. For the entirety of the campaign, Nolan outraised Velazquez $32,582.84 to $12,211.02, which could explain why a 29-year-old with limited political experience has run such a competitive campaign against a popular incumbent.

The social media campaign

Since the end of the mayoral election, and Kidd’s departure from the Seat #1 runoff, negative comments on social media seems to have died down for the most part.

Both Nolan and Velazquez have been active on local Facebook pages, responding to questions and posting reminders about the election and their views on local issues. And while Velazquez used the above statements effectively to keep her campaign thriving during the runoff, Nolan’s best moment on social media may have come during the general election when she defended herself during allegations about lawsuits filed against her by credit card companies.

“There are situations in our lives that happen to us and there is no way to prepare for it. Six years ago I had a very difficult pregnancy and I was very fortunate to have given birth to what we thought was a healthy baby boy. A month after he was born we found ourselves in a hospital planning his funeral. My son was two rooms over on life support, with no explanation on how he got to that point. When the doctor walked in several hours after being at the hospital with the priest we find out that IF God willing he gets healthy enough for surgery he would have to have open heart surgery. The doctors were not hopeful at all that he would ever be healthy enough for surgery, but after several days of being on life support, he was rushed into the CVPICU operating room where he had eight-hour open heart surgery that no one knew for sure was going to work. My son had to stay in the hospital for a month to recover and for the first year of his life had several more visits to the hospital because his heart kept flooding. During this time with the cost of medical, the hours of work we missed, travel, and all the other expenses I had racked up several credit card expenses. In the six years since then, I have paid all but three of those credit cards and have recently started working on one of the last three. I am hopeful if I keep on the track I am on I will have them paid off by next year. This is a moment in my life that I could not prepare for or imagined could happen to me. I am personally proud of the fast pace I have paid off this debt and did not give up even when times were tough. This is something that is very personal to me and it hurts my heart that people want to dredge this up when they refuse to go to the source to ask why I made the decisions I made. I hope this clears up any confusion or misconceptions that are out there. If anyone has questions please come to me and ask.”

Three possible outcomes

Predicting a municipal election is often like walking into a pitch black room and trying to figure out its contents. Some things you can feel and know for certain what they are. Other things you have a good idea, but don’t know for certain and other things you will have no clue without light. There is simply no way to properly predict this runoff election without more details. With that said, here are three scenarios I believe are plausible, given the limited details to go on:

The first is that Nolan rides the wave of the Nelson landslide and matches his 63.4% total. In order for this to happen, however, it would probably take another unprecedented turnout of voters that didn’t vote for either Nolan or Velazquez to turn out and vote for Nolan. And given the current state of mail-in and early ballots, this scenario is beginning to look less likely.

A second theory would be a turnout to match the general election model in which Nolan edged Velazquez with 2,478 votes to her 2,330. The most likely voters to turnout in a runoff election would be those same 4,808 that voted for either Nolan or Velazquez during the general election. This would give Nolan a slight advantage and create a contest to get the voters who support Nolan or Velazquez to the polls.

But with only 1,856 votes cast by mail-in or early voting, it appears the final turnout number will fall below 4,808, which means this scenario would create a smaller turnout and a margin of victory between 1-2%.

The Apopka Voice Reader’s Poll conducted last week suggests a third scenario in which turnout is low, but Nolan’s momentum from the general election separates her just enough for a more comfortable victory. She won the poll with 281 (54.8%) votes to 231 votes (45.2%) for Velazquez, which would mirror the three most recent runoff results of Apopka elections. In 2014, Kilsheimer beat Mayor John Land in their runoff 54.46% to 45.54%, while in 2016 Doug Bankson defeated then-Commissioner Sam Ruth 55.51% to 44.49% and Kyle Becker defeated then-Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith 54.93%-45.07%.

The Apopka Voice Endorses…

The Apopka Voice, as you may know, does not endorse candidates. It is our hope that after three debates, 1,000-plus word features on both candidates, and dozens of articles written on the Seat #2 election, you would not need a news outlet’s endorsement to make a wise decision.

But on a more personal note, I strongly endorse both Alice Nolan and Diane Velazquez as Apopkans and as human beings.

Velazquez retired from a life of public service to the residents of New York City to become a public servant to the residents of Apopka. She has been a presence on the City Council for four years and attends nearly every Apopka event. She is approachable and accessible as a commissioner, and she is a champion in many ways to the farmworker’s community. It’s clear Velazquez loves Apopka and will do what she believes is right for the community.

Alice Nolan also loves Apopka. She is a part of its earliest roots and often references stories of family members who paved the way for the growth Apopka is experiencing right now. She is a fierce defender of her family, has a passion for Apopka and its residents, and a willingness to connect with them and understand their issues, challenges, and struggles. She has grown politically in the two campaigns she has run and has shown the curiosity to grow in office if elected. It’s clear Nolan will do what she believes is right for the community.

You have a difficult decision Apopka, but one that I believe will result in the selection of a city commissioner the community can be proud of.

Stay with The Apopka Voice tomorrow for wall-to-wall coverage of the 2018 Apopka Runoff Election for Seat #2 from 7 AM until 7 PM or until the election is decided.

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