Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series about Apopka Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson entitled “The First 100 Days”. The series will outline the expected path Nelson will take in his first 100 days in office. What are his priorities? How will he lead Apopka? What will the budget look like under a Nelson administration? How will he handle the City staff and who will his department heads be?
But in order to look forward, sometimes it’s important to look back. In this case, The Apopka Voice began by getting Nelson’s thoughts on the 2018 Apopka Mayoral election.
Part One: Election results relieved a lot of pressure for Nelson
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
Bryan Nelson is a natural on the campaign trail.
After six consecutive victories at the state, county, and local level, it’s not a surprising revelation. It has been reported that after announcing his intention to run for Apopka Mayor in March of 2017, Nelson, the Orange County Commissioner and Apopka Mayor-Elect, knocked on hundreds of doors to talk to residents, and then on election day manned a post on the corner of Central Avenue and Fifth Street for 12 hours waving to passers-by, voters, and supporters as they made their way to the VFW/Apopka Community Center precinct.
“I love campaigning,” Nelson said. “I love knocking on doors and meeting the people. I feel connected to the residents when I’m in their neighborhoods and hearing from them.”
But while door-knocking, waving to supporters and listening to the people were highlights for him, there were also low points and a never-ending stress level of having to win this election.
“For me, it was without a doubt the most pressure I’ve ever felt in any election,” Nelson told The Apopka Voice. “It wasn’t intended pressure from my supporters, but I felt the pressure from their desire for me to win. They would say: ‘You have to do this. You have to be our next mayor. We can’t go another four years.’ So it was unintentional… it was unintended pressure from them, but it was real. There were nights I couldn’t sleep thinking I wasn’t going to win. And again, they didn’t think they were putting pressure on me, but I just didn’t want to let anybody down. There were supporters out there saying they were going to move out of Apopka if I didn’t win, and I just said come on, don’t do that to me.”
The January 31st Mayoral debate seemed to mark the culmination of that stress.
“Before the debate, people were patting me on the back and saying ‘hey Bryan you’ve got this, you’ve got to do good’. And you’re just… wow! It was really rough. I was nervous because I wanted to do well for the people supporting and cheering for me.”
Despite the pressure Nelson felt throughout the campaign, there were two indicators that kept his confidence high – voluntary campaign donations, and hundreds of requests for yard signs.
“I’m not a terribly good fundraiser,” he said. “But what was interesting is that I would say that more than 90% of the money we raised was never even asked for. It just came in. People would stop by the office and say ‘here’s a check’. That was pretty gratifying. People are bringing checks without me “dialing for dollars” as they call it. That was one of the reasons I felt good about the election. When someone voluntarily gives you a check or somebody puts a yard sign up, you know they’re pretty committed. We had 1,500 yard-signs, and we gave every one of them away.”
Although unknown at the time, those indicators were pointing to a one-sided election.
The Apopka Voice conducted three polls… the final one in February predicted a Nelson victory by a modest margin of 53-47%, which seemed to suggest a tightening race after Nelson won by 11% in both December and January polls. It missed by 10% on Nelson’s total mark.
Nelson, however, thrashed Apopka incumbent Mayor Joe Kilsheimer with 63.4% of the vote, the largest margin of victory in an Apopka election since Commissioner Kathy S. Till defeated Sammy Ruth with 65.5% of the vote in 2008. Nelson received an astounding 4,103 votes, the most ever by a candidate for Apopka mayor.
But while Nelson was cautiously optimistic about winning, he was surprised that the final tally was a landslide.
“The margin of victory surprised me for sure,” he said. “I sure wouldn’t have thought that. We felt pretty good. We had a lot of support. You just never know.”
On April 24th, Nelson will put his hand on a family Bible and begin his first term in office. A little later that day, he will bring a lot of awards, photos, and mementos to hang on the walls at his new office in City Hall, but perhaps the most important thing he will bring with him is a political mandate based on his record-breaking victory in the 2018 mayoral election.
Sometimes stress, pressure, and a few sleepless nights are worth it.
For Tuesday: In part two of “The First 100 Days”, Nelson talks about his first conversation with Mayor Kilsheimer in relation to his transition into office, he shares a plan he borrowed from a former Florida Governor to get to know the City of Apopka employees and the jobs they do, and he talks about an unexpected couple of expenses the City will have to deal with.