Apopka City Commissioner-Elect Kyle Becker has been on quite the emotional rollercoaster ride these past few months.
In March, he narrowly lost a hard-fought mayoral election.
In April, he said an emotional goodbye to the City Council.
In May, he announced his intention to run in the special election for Seat #3.
In early August, his opponent in that election made allegations of racism against him just two days after a debate and less than two weeks before Election Day.
Then finally, on Tuesday night, he won the Seat #3 special election with 58% of the vote.
It's just your typical 168 days of politics in Apopka.
Becker will return to a City Council that seems to remain in flux since Mayor John Land left office eight years ago. There have been 11 changes to the five seats in the last eight years, four from special elections.
It started with Mayor Joe Kilsheimer and Commissioners Sam Ruth and Diane Velazquez winning elections in 2014.
In 2016, Commissioners Becker and Doug Bankson defeated Bill Arrowsmith and Ruth.
In 2018, Mayor Bryan Nelson defeated Kilsheimer, Commissioner Alice Nolan defeated Velazquez, and Commissioner Alexander Smith won an open seat (#1).
In 2020, Bankson and Becker broke the streak of six straight incumbents losing, but later that year, Nolan resigned, and Velazquez won back Seat #2 in a special election.
Then in 2022, Commissioner Nick Nesta won Seat #4 in a special election, and Becker won Seat #3 in a special election.
Sort of a merry-go-round meets musical chairs in the City Council.
A few years ago, I wrote that Apopka was experiencing growing pains after six straight incumbents lost election bids between 2014 and 2018. But after these last two election cycles and three special elections, I think it's a city looking for its identity.
Is it a low-millage, tight-budget bedroom community known for its indoor foliage, easy access to Orlando, and the best price on homes per-square-foot in Orange County? Or is it an emerging city that invests in its future, fully staffs its first responders, astounds with its unique city center, and builds a place residents can be proud to call home?
The narrow mayoral decision, coupled with Becker's significant win in August, sends mixed signals about the residents' priorities. Only time, and a few more election cycles, will determine what Apopka is seeking.
One thing that came from this upheaval was the emergence of three commissioners who rose like the proverbial phoenix from the political ashes to claim or reclaim seats on the Council.
There is a history of political candidates who lose elections on their way to bigger wins in the future:
Locally, Becker joins Nesta and Velazquez on this list of politicians who have bounced back from a loss, and while everyone would like to go undefeated in their careers, Apopka is better off for having these commissioners who put community over ego. Many candidates have run for office, lost, and disappeared. I talked to two (from several years ago) who said the voters rejected them and, therefore, they won't run again.
It takes exceptional fortitude to accept a negative outcome in an election and return to put your name on a ballot. The Apopka City Council now has three members who have taken that path, and it would not be a stretch to expect their perspectives and opinions to shape it.
And moving forward, don't expect to see a lot of 5-0 votes.
Apopka has a strong mayor form of government. Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson is like the CEO of the City - proposing a budget, setting the agenda, managing the staff, and leading the Council. But if he cannot build consensus among Council, how bold can that leadership be?
Although the budget cycle for 2022-23 concludes in September, Becker's return to the City Council could potentially put many issues back on the table. Will his emergence breathe life back into the South Apopka Annexation Committee/Workshop/Referendum effort? Will an economic development director/department be revisited? Will the fire department's staffing, training, and safety issues be back at the forefront?
And will he have the votes to get those issues to the finish line?
It also adds a strong and contrasting voice to agenda items brought before the City Council that could offer spirited debate and an alternative viewpoint, which could change how a discussion turns, or a vote is cast.
That's not to say Becker would lead commissioners to his way of thinking. I have seen Nesta, Smith, and Velazquez take the minority side on issues they disagreed with. I believe all of them bring their perspectives, opinions, and core beliefs to the dais and vote accordingly. But Becker is known for his full-throated, well-researched presentations and could find consensus on certain issues with this Council.
Becker's return will change the Council's dynamic, the issues it addresses and enhance the discussion on important agenda items that come before Council.
As Nelson said about Becker during his last Council meeting in April...
"You've challenged us. You've made us better. You've made a difference here in Apopka, and I hope we've not seen you for the last time."
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