Unlike most municipalities in this area, Apopka takes its politics seriously. Just look at election turnout data for nearby cities versus Apopka if you don't believe me. Or read the comments in area newspapers, news sites, or posts on social media. This is a community passionate about its elections.
And running for office goes hand-in-hand with that passion.
While most elected officials in local government either win handily or run unopposed term after term, no one gets a free ride here. If you want to be on the City Council, you will have to run the gauntlet of the Apopka voter.
Here is just a glance at the last six election cycles in Apopka:
And when Seat #2 Commissioner Alice Nolan resigned, four candidates ran in the special election to fill her seat. It's been an impressive show of civic duty for quite a long time in Apopka.
So what's happening in this cycle?
With the qualifying week for the 2022 Apopka elections fast approaching (December 27th-January 4th), and election day (March 8th) only 78 days out, only five candidates are running for the four seats up for grabs in 2022.
That means three candidates are currently running unopposed - incumbents Alexander Smith (Seat #1) and Diane Velazquez (Seat #2). The last time an incumbent ran unopposed was Commissioner Billie Dean in 2014 - but he was in office for over 20 years.
But in the case of the Seat #4 special election (an open seat!), there is currently just one entry - Nick Nesta. I'm not going to look up the last time someone made it on the City Council as both a non-incumbent and unopposed, but I'm pretty sure the internet did not exist when it did.
Three candidates running unopposed? In Apopka? That means a majority of the city commission could conceivably be sworn-in to office without making their campaign platform known... without a challenger. Could Apopka seriously allow three candidates to essentially volunteer for a city commission post that manages a $100 million-plus budget for a city with a population of over 53,000?
A mayoral race between an incumbent and a sitting member of the City Council will, of course, take the vast majority of bandwidth in 2022. No city commission election is going to compete with them for attention. But a contested election for those three city commission seats is just as essential as the mayoral tilt that's coming.
Let me also state that this is not a criticism of Nesta or Commissioners Smith and Velazquez. I thank the commissioners for their service to the community and Nesta for his sense of civic duty. I have interviewed and written about all three candidates, and I believe they will do what they think is best for Apopka. But, I also believe all three candidates would be better commissioners if they overcome a challenge in the political arena and share their ideologies and vision for Apopka in contrast to their opponents.
As the verse states: Iron sharpens iron.
Since the 2016 elections, 13 candidates have either run for office or been a member of the City Council (or both) that are not running in this cycle. There are probably a dozen more people that I have chronically (or consistently might be a better descriptor) called, texted, emailed, or messengered about running for office.
I have a request of you, and anyone else in Apopka thinking about running for office:
Look deep inside yourself, and if you believe you are qualified to hold office, now is the time to give it a shot.
It's not the Apopka way to give candidates a free ride onto the City Council. And more than that - our community needs you.
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