Part Two: Apopka City Commission Seat #1
Note - Within hours of each other last week, Mayor Joe Kilsheimer and Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson announced their candidacies for the Apopka Mayoral election, which is approximately one year away.
And with those two high-profile announcements, the Apopka political season officially began.
For the next four days, The Apopka Voice will analyze four 2018 election contests that will most catch the attention of the community - Apopka Mayor, Apopka City Commission (seats #1 and #2), and the Orange County Commission (Seat #2). TAV will reach out to the 25 people we believe might run for those four offices, and confirm if they are going to be a candidate or sit this election cycle out.
Today we focus on the race for Apopka City Commission Seat #1
Commissioner Billie Dean is the lion of Apopka politics.
He is the longest standing member of the City Council, first elected 23 years ago. He succeeded the iconic Alonzo Williams, who was the first black commissioner in Apopka. Dean is a retired educator that has lived in the Apopka community for more than 35 years. He is married to Isadora Dean and has five children and three grandchildren. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army, served in the Korean War, and received a Bronze Star for valor.
Dean is brash, outspoken, and the champion of South Apopka, but will he run for a sixth term?
Dean told The Apopka Voice that he is undecided as to whether he will defend Seat #1 in 2018. And if Dean does not run, it could open the floodgates of candidates for the open seat.
Two candidates have already announced their intention to run for Seat #1 - Gene Knight and Pastor Alexander Smith.
Knight is the founder of the local social media site Apopka Then and Now. He announced his candidacy on Facebook today.
"I take great pride in announcing that I am running for Apopka City Commissioner, Seat One. I believe that no one knows the city like its citizens and that the city council needs fresh voices that will have time and concern for everyone. I want to be that voice for ALL Apopka."
Knight also announced his campaign kickoff will be Wednesday, March 29th at 6PM at Porkies BBQ in Apopka.
Smith is the Associate Pastor at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Apopka, and a community activist. He is a graduate of Apopka High School, and Florida A&M University receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Education with a minor in Horticultural Science. He is also a graduate of Apopka’s Citizens Police Academy, and a Certified Horticultural Professional by the State of Florida.
Smith's passion is helping youth succeed. He was a teacher in the Orange County Public School system for over 40 years before his retirement. Now he is the leader of a ministry at New Hope that tutors children, helps them with SAT preparation, and counsels them on college opportunities.
"I've lived in Apopka since 1965. I've watched Apopka grow, and I've always wanted to be a part of its growth. After educating children for 40 years, I want to continue my service to the community through elected office."
Other potential candidates are not ready to commit to a run for office, but are not ruling it out either.
Former Commissioner Sam Ruth lost his seat in 2016, but many believe he may run again in 2018. Ruth did not take that possibility off the table in his statement.
"2018 is a long time and a lot can happen," he said. "I've been asked from people if I'm going to run and my answer is, we will see what the future brings. If it's good for Apopka, it's good for me."
Suzanne Kidd is a former 30-year public school educator and design professional. During her sixteen years as an Apopka resident, she has been an active participant in her homeowners' association and in Apopka civic affairs, attending City Council and Planning Commission meetings and serving on several City committees, most recently chairing the City's Visioning Steering Committee. She is currently involved with Habitat for Humanity in bringing affordable housing to Apopka. Kidd is a constant at City Council and workshop meetings. She too left the possibility open for a Seat #1 campaign.
"At this time I am undecided on running for office," she said. "Apopka is a wonderful city with warm and caring residents. It is also poised for unprecedented growth. What we need is elected officials with the vision and wisdom to manage that growth to the betterment of all segments of the Apopka community. Apopkans deserve the most able and dedicated leaders available. Let's hope those are the candidates that step forward."
Hezekiah Bradford is the President of the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance. During the Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade in January, the crowd yelled for him to run for office. Bradford told them he wasn't running. Two months later, his mind hasn't changed. His response was three simple words: "I'm not running."
Rod Love is a consistent voice at City Council meetings during the public comments section. He was the co-chairman of the Apopka Community Task Force on Violence and the current Chairman of the Florida Economic Council on Violence and Crime. It has long been rumored that he might have an interest in public office. But according to Love, the timing isn't right.
"At this point, though interested, I do not have the time necessary to commit to public office. I have two wonderfully talented daughters who are at a point in their lives where they need not just my wife, who is a great mother, but also their father to continue to teach them about the world around them and how they too are obligated to be a blessing to the same community that has blessed them with opportunities."
Dr. Ray Shackelford is also a consistent voice in the public comments section of City Commission meetings. There has been speculation that he might run for this seat if Dean did not. However, Shackelford would only confirm his support for the current incumbent.
"I will support Commissioner Dean if he runs," Shackelford said.
Unlike the mayor's race, which has two established candidates in Mayor Joe Kilsheimer and Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson, the race for Seat #1 could be filled with multiple first-time candidates taking the place of a five-term incumbent. So far the tally is at two, but expect several more to announce in the coming weeks. Especially if Dean chooses to retire.
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