By Reggie Connell
From now until November, politics will be a hot topic in Apopka. But President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden won’t be the only candidates in that discussion.
Thanks to former City Commissioner Alice Nolan, there will be local names on the general election ballot. Last week, Nolan resigned from the city commission, which leaves Seat #2 vacant, and very much up for grabs in a special election scheduled for November 3rd – the same day as the presidential election.
On that day, Apopka will vote to fill Nolan’s term, which runs until April of 2022. And while most elections are a year-long marathon with a small field of candidates, this will be an 84-day sprint to the finish line. And with no incumbent in Seat #2, it could also be a crowded field.
Although qualifying begins at noon on August 26th and ends at noon on August 28th, The Apopka Voice has already contacted 20 possible candidates to get a feel for who may or may not be running for the seat. And as is often the case in politics, not too many were ready to announce their intentions.
Two things that seem likely are a large field of candidates and the highest turnout for a municipal election in Apopka’s history, fueled primarily by the presidential race. The mayoral election of 2018 had a 20.5% turnout, which was the highest in Apopka history. The turnout for the 2016 presidential election nationwide was 55.7%.
Beyond those two likelihoods, the eventual winner of Seat#2 is wide open for speculation.
Through Facebook messages, emails, texts, and phone calls, The Apopka Voice contacted 20 of the most likely people to run for Seat #2, and asked them if they were “in or out”.
The replies were a mix of “yes, no, and maybe”.
Yesenia Leon-Baron, however, beat us to the punch.
Baron, who was running for the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office earlier in the year, filed with the Apopka City Clerk and officially announced her intention to run in the special election, releasing this statement:
“I wanted to first express my well-wishes to Commissioner Alice Nolan during this tough time she and her family are experiencing. My family and I are praying for a speedy recovery. I also wanted to share that I filed to run as a candidate for the City of Apopka Council Seat 2.”
According to the bio Baron sent to The Apopka Voice, she moved to Apopka in 2012 but was born and raised in Miami, the daughter of Cuban immigrants. She graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice and then her Master of Science in organizational management from St. Thomas University.
She started her professional career at the Department of Business and Professional Regulations as an investigative specialist. In 1997, she graduated from the police academy and rose to become a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Baron retired in 2012 and is now a Regional Liaison for the National Criminal Justice Training Center, AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program. She is also an appointed member of the Community Action Board for Orange County District 2.
Baron is married to Edwin Baron and has four children.
Rod Love, an Apopka businessman who is also a co-host of the radio show “Let’s Talk About It with Rod Love and Greg Jackson,” would surely be a frontrunner if he chose to run for the seat. Love, who was appointed by Governor Rick Scott to serve the remainder of then-County Commissioner Bryan Nelson’s term (from April-December of 2018) on the Orange County Commission (District 7), declined the opportunity to run for the seat.
“While there is much work still to be done, the presently seated city council inclusive of the mayor continues to demonstrate they are up to the tough challenges that lie ahead,” he said. “For this reason, I’ve decided not to pursue the City of Apopka Seat 2 and continue to serve my community with my experience, knowledge, and passion in partnership with the city council.”
Greg Jackson, Love’s co-host on “Let’s Talk”, was more open to the idea of running. When contacted by The Apopka Voice, he did not confirm or deny a run for the city commission.
But then on Sunday, he wrote this on his Facebook page:
“This morning I woke up, looked myself in the mirror, and asked: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” I push the envelope a little too much to continue sitting on the sidelines. The one thing I can say at this time is that there is an opportunity to serve and be impactful. I have worked very hard to do both as a private citizen.”
Jackson is a local attorney and previously ran for the Florida Legislature (District 45) in 2016.
Apopka Then and Now is a popular social media page at the forefront of community discussions, including a good dose of politics. Three of its administrators – Misha Corbett, Fred Kinney, and Gene Knight have all been vocal about Apopka politics and government on the site for several years. Knight ran for the Apopka City Commission (Seat #1) in 2018. Corbett confirmed she would not run, but both Kenney and Knight are still considering the opportunity.
“I’m undecided right now, but I will let you know soon,” Knight said.
And while Kinney did not release a statement, he told The Apopka Voice he is considering a run, which would be his first.
Just a few months ago, Apopka residents Leroy Bell and Lorena Potter challenged incumbent commissioners Doug Bankson (Seat #3) and Kyle Becker (Seat #4). Ultimately their campaigns were unable to defeat the incumbents, but neither is ruling-out a run for Seat #2 this time around. Bell, in fact, is close to announcing his third run for city commission since 2018.
“I am checking out my options,” he said. “We are doing a community survey and speaking to some of my supporters, and we’ll know something in the next week… but as of now, I am planning on running.”
Potter is also considering a second run but has to make sure she has a clear path to serve.
“I’m looking at my grandkid’s upcoming school schedules with the COVID-19 issues and the possibility that I may be called on to help with distance learning. I need to be sure that I can confidently commit. I don’t want to run if I can’t be 100-percent on task for the duration of the term.”
The Apopka Voice also contacted former vice mayor Bill Arrowsmith, former mayor Joe Kilsheimer, former candidate for Seat #1 Sue Kidd, and Apopka residents William Gusler and Mariah McCullough, who all confirmed they would not be running for the seat.
Not responding to our question was Monique Morris, the former campaign manager for Commissioner Alexander Smith, Steve White, owner of Porkie’s Original BBQ and a member of the CRA board, former 2018 candidate for Seat #2 Alicia Koutsoulieris, former 2018 candidate for Seat #1 Theresa Mott, former commissioner Sam Ruth, and former candidate for Seat #4 Young Kim.
Former Seat #2 Commissioner Diane Velazquez, who lost to Nolan in 2018, was contacted by The Apopka Voice twice by text message but did not respond. Velazquez, who is currently an appointed member of the Orange County Planning & Zoning Board, District #2, would undoubtedly be considered a frontrunner if she chose to run again for the seat she occupied from 2014-2018.
The Apopka Voice will stay on this story as it develops from now until Election Day.