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Who will run for Mayor of Apopka in 2026?

Five candidates you may see on the next ballot


I know what you're thinking.

'We're just a couple of weeks removed from the lowest voter turnout in Apopka since 2012, and you're already speculating on a mayoral election almost two years away? Do you remember how contentious the last one was? Shouldn't you wait at least another year before fanning the flames?'

The answer to all of these questions is yes.

I'm aware that any number of variables could happen between now and 2026 that may alter this list, and the likelihood is that everyone I name would prefer I not write this article. Others will not be happy they didn't make the list.

Political analysis can be a thankless job, but that won't stop me.

Considering all these factors, I decided to press forward for a few reasons.

First, it's best to view a politician through the prism of their motivations. If they are considering a run for office, voters should be aware of the possibility. 

Second, the 2022 election was contentious and sometimes downright ugly. But talking about 2026 long before the field solidifies will keep the candidates focused on issues, not attacks.

'Why is that?', you might ask.

Suppose the residents of Apopka keep the discussion laser-focused on issues that genuinely affect the community and not on personalities, motives, and attacks. In that case, the candidates will note what they see and hear from their voter base and follow suit.

Politicians almost always do.

Between now and the election season, stay engaged. Ask questions. Attend debates, town halls, forums, City Council meetings, and workshops. And most of all—vote! Shake off the low voter turnout of 2024 and come back strong in 2026.

One final note before I start naming names: I did not ask anyone on this list if they are considering a run for Apopka Mayor in 2026. You may wonder why a journalist writing on the subject wouldn't confirm their intentions and hold them accountable as we near the election cycle. The simple answer is I've asked many would-be candidates if they are considering a run for city commission, mayor, county commission, the Florida Legislature, the US House of Representatives, and Senate. I've even asked a Congresswoman if she might run for President of the United States.

I've asked elected officials if they are running for re-election when I know for a near certainty they are, and to date, I have never heard one say 'yes' or 'no' until they are ready to announce—candidates like to lay the groundwork and make decisions on their timetable.

For these reasons, I'm not asking. I can do without the uncomfortable verbal gymnastics of an answer that neither confirms nor denies their intent. I may call them all in a few months, and one might surprise me, but I doubt it.

So, without further ado, here are five potential candidates I believe are either making moves to run for Apopka Mayor in 2026, considering it, have a case to make, or all of the above.

Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson

Nelson has absorbed withering attacks by residents during public comments at City Council meetings and on social media. He's endured critical articles, OP/EDs, and editorials on his policies and leadership from The Apopka Voice and other media outlets. He survived a recall attempt in which 1,692 registered Apopka voters signed (according to the recall sponsor), and his commissioners censored him.

Has he had enough?

The keywords in the opening paragraph are these three active verbs: absorbed, endured, and survived.

Nelson has won elections for the Florida Legislature, the Orange County Commission, and Apopka Mayor. He has never lost an election. He's the first Apopka mayor to win re-election since John Land. If Nelson decides to run for a third term, he will be the favorite against any opponent.

But that's the biggest "if" in Apopka politics right now.

The other side of the coin is that Nelson has never held the same office for over eight years. Despite a significant fundraising advantage, he won his last election by a razor-thin margin. He received fewer votes in 2018 than he did in 2022, and his opponent received more votes in 2022 than in 2018. If that trend continues, Nelson will lose the 2026 election.

It's also worth noting that Nelson will be a 68-year-old millionaire in 2026, with much of his family living nearby. He may be tired of enduring and absorbing so much incoming artillery. Nelson could retire undefeated and allow the City of Apopka to have its first election without an incumbent since at least 1949. He could also run and, if successful, be the longest-serving mayor in Apopka history (except for Land) with 12 years of service.

If Nelson decides to run, I think two candidates may challenge him.

Apopka City Commissioner Nick Nesta

In 2020, Nesta was a first-time candidate who came in fourth place in a special election with four candidates. But a little less than two years later, Nesta parlayed his experience in that first run for office into a successful campaign in another special election in 2022 with 61.5% of the vote. 

Then Nesta made a solid transition from candidate to commissioner.

He's comfortable and proactive on the dais. He asks tough questions of staff and the administration and follows up on his and other commissioners' questions to get answers. 

He calls for big ideas like a comprehensive financial audit and a new investment portfolio policy. It's not hard to imagine Nesta sitting in the middle seat on Council.

Nesta won re-election to Seat #4 a couple of weeks ago with 60.5% of the vote. He is the first commissioner in a post-John Land era to win back-to-back victories with 60% or more of the vote.

That's right; not Commissioners Doug Bankson, Kyle Becker, Alexander Smith, or even Diane Velazquez.

Nesta has proven-out in both policy and politics.

But will he run?

At age 33, it might make sense to wait until the seat is open. He would likely be a three-term (or more) commissioner and a prohibitive favorite at some point in the future. However, experts also told Barack Obama not to run against Hillary Clinton in 2008. 'You're too young and inexperienced,' they said. 'Stay in the Senate. Run for Illinois Governor. Run eight years from now.'

We all know how that turned out.

Orange County Commissioner Christine Moore

Take a look at Moore's track record running for office in Orange County. It's a model of political efficiency with victories in the Orange County School Board and County Commission. Moore is a grinder on the campaign trail. She understands the fundamentals of local elections. Moore will knock on more doors in a district, raise more money, build a better volunteer team, and outlast her opponents.

Moore also brings that work ethic to her role as an elected official.

In the past couple of years, she has read books, written columns, gone on tours, attended workshops, and taken classes on revitalizing downtowns and cities, which is exactly what a would-be candidate for mayor would and should be doing.

Moore is termed-out of the Orange County Commission, and although running for the Orange County School Board Chair or the Florida Legislature wouldn't be out of the question, running for Apopka Mayor is the better fit.

Like Nelson, Moore has never lost an election and could end her political career undefeated. However, becoming Apopka's first female mayor may be too enticing an opportunity to turn down.

Moore currently lives outside of Apopka-proper, so if she moves into the city limits, you can consider that her "crossing the Rubicon" moment. If she decides to run, Moore will be a formidable candidate.

If Nelson decides not to run for a third term, two other candidates may emerge as contenders.

Florida House District 39 Representative Doug Bankson

Like Moore, Bankson runs a tight, pragmatic, and ultimately successful campaign. He, too, has never lost an election. Bankson won a general election and runoff for Seat #3 on the Apopka City Commission in 2016. He was re-elected in 2020. In 2022, he won a Republican Primary for District 39 and a general election.

If Bankson is re-elected in 2024, he will have served four years in the Legislature by 2026. It could be a perfect jumping-off point to run for mayor.

Bankson is a full-throated conservative and was one of the most persuasive voices on the city commission on issues important to his core beliefs. He spearheaded the idea of keeping 25% of reserves in the general fund, which passed with a unanimous vote.

If Nelson does run again, I doubt Bankson would challenge him. Both are Republicans, and Bankson has other options. He can keep running for District 39, the State Senate, or maybe even the US House of Representatives. But if the stars align and Bankson throws his hat into the mayoral ring, he too would be a serious candidate to succeed Nelson. His roots are in Apopka. He's been the board chair of the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce and President of the Apopka Christian Ministerial Alliance. He's the lead pastor of a large church in Apopka and has been a part of local politics for most of the last decade.

Apopka City Commissioner Alexander Smith

Smith is a bit of an enigma on the City Council. 

He is the only Democrat on the Council. He endorsed Andrew Gillum for Florida Governor in 2018, and invited him to speak at his church. Despite his liberal roots, Smith is the most reliable vote on Council for Nelson initiatives. He voted for the 25% reserve Bankson endorsed, yet once said he would be willing to spend $10 million from the general fund to annex South Apopka. He's called for a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, freezing rents in Apopka and allowing an affordable housing project to be built inside the Apopka City Center, one of the rare votes he took against Nelson.

Because of his loyalty, I doubt Smith would run against Nelson. However, he has made more than one reference to running for mayor, including to The Apopka Voice in 2018.

Smith is quiet during Council meetings and cannot point to any ordinances or referendums that he has championed to completion. However, he is likable and well-known in Apopka. He is also a pastor of a large church in South Apopka and a two-term commissioner. Smith would have to be considered a serious candidate if he runs.

His biggest liability may be a factor that was out of his control.

Technically, Smith has never been in first place in a contended election. In 2018, he came in second place and qualified for a runoff against Sue Kidd. However, Kidd withdrew from the runoff, and Smith was, therefore, the winner. In 2022, Smith ran unopposed. By a wide margin, Smith has collected the fewest votes of any commissioner to be elected twice in the post-John Land era.

That's not to say Smith is unworthy of the office because a challenger withdrew, and no one ran against him, but it does make it challenging to run for higher office if the electorate isn't used to seeing your name on a ballot.

As I wrote in the first few paragraphs, many factors could change this list. If the Apopka City Charter changes from a Strong Mayor to a City Manager form of government, it could dramatically alter who would be interested in running. Election Day moving from March to November could also be a factor. But whatever the variables are, it's healthy to start talking about who might be running in 2026 and what sort of issues we want those candidates to discuss and focus on.

After all, we are only a little over 700 days from Apopka's next election - or 900 if it's moved to November.

Editor's Note: The Apopka Voice corrected the number of voters signing a petition to recall Mayor Nelson to 1,692 and attributed the amount to the recall sponsors. It was published as 1,700 in an earlier edition.

Apopka City Council, Apopka Mayor, Election 2026, Opinion, Analysis, Who will run for Mayor of Apopka in 2026?


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  • MamaMia

    Reggie, I find it very odd that you did not include future Apopka Vice Mayor, and current Apopka City Commissioner, Diane Velazquez, in your article above, speculating on who may run for Apopka Mayor in 2026. Why did you exclude Commissioner Velazquez??? Very strange indeed. I would consider her the number one contender, seeing that she moves up to vice mayor, when Becker leaves.. ...??????? Anyway, those who call the current mayor administration a mafia, the next mayor's administration, just becomes the next mafia.

    Tuesday, April 2 Report this

  • My2cents

    Velazquez for Mayor 2026

    Tuesday, April 2 Report this