With primary elections in Orange County concluded, two more candidates jumped into the race for the Apopka City Commission Seat #2 special election.
Diane Velazquez, a former commissioner from 2014-2018, and Gene Knight Jr., a former candidate for Seat #1 in 2018, both filled out documents yesterday at City Hall in order to run for former Commissioner Alice Nolan’s vacated seat. Knight and Velazquez join Yesenia Leon-Baron, who filed two weeks ago for the special election.
In 2014, Velazquez burst onto the Apopka political scene with a surprising victory over 18-year incumbent Marilyn Ustler-McQueen with 55% of the vote. Her margin of victory was the largest in that election cycle – outperforming both Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer and Commissioner Sam Ruth, who were both eventual winners in runoffs.
After becoming a commissioner, she immediately began to define its role.
“It’s more than just reviewing and deciding on new city projects, proposals, city charter changes, and any other issues the city and its residents may face in the ever-changing future of our city. Additionally, the role of a city commissioner is to make decisions on facts and taking into consideration the needs of the community at large. When I say, “More than just decision making,” It’s my opinion that commissioners need to be in contact with the community at all times. A commissioner needs to attend community meetings, attend organizational meetings and gatherings, attend school functions and church services. I have been invited to many church services in our community and I have attended almost all the services that I was invited to. Staying in touch with the residents, business people and others that visit and are in contact with our city is a very important part of being a city commissioner.”
Velazquez is retired from the New York City Police Department who achieved the rank of Detective 2nd Grade, serving as a medical insurance fraud investigator. During her career, she attended and successfully completed several investigative courses within the agency. She also attended weekend college courses at Nassau Community College in Long Island.
She has been actively involved in the community since moving to Apopka in April of 2005. She is married to Ed Velazquez, who is also a retired law enforcement officer and a Vietnam veteran, and has two children.
Velazquez lost Seat #2 to Nolan in a 2018 runoff. Nolan received 1,702 votes (58.95%), while Velazquez received 1,185 (41.05%)
Knight made his announcement through a social media post.
“Alright my decision is made, I will be running for City Commissioner Seat Two,” Knight wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday. “I turned the paperwork in this morning to officially run, I will pay my qualifying fee August 26th.”
Knight is a lifetime Apopkan. He went to school at Lovell Elementary, Lockhart Middle School, and Apopka High School. He worked at local companies his entire adult life and even lived in Apopka while serving as an Army reservist for nine years. he is the founder and an administrator of the Facebook Page Apopka Then and Now.
“I am running because we live in an awesome community that’s been very good to my family,” Knight. “I want to do my part to keep Apopka great and I see opportunities to make it even better. I also see significant challenges coming before our city. I am seeking commissioner seat 2 because I want to continue to make Apopka a great place to live.”
In 2018, Knight ran for the Apopka City Commission (Seat #1), and received 1,196 votes (19.4%), finishing in third place and missing the runoff between Suzanne Kidd and Alexander H. Smith.
He is married to Cheryl Knight and has two children.
Baron, who was the first to officially file, is a newcomer to Apopka politics, but did run for the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office earlier in the year.
“I wanted to first express my well-wishes to Commissioner Alice Nolan during this tough time she and her family are experiencing,” she said in a statement to The Apopka Voice. “My family and I are praying for a speedy recovery. I also wanted to share that I filed to run as a candidate for the City of Apopka Council Seat 2.”
Baron moved to Apopka in 2012 but was born and raised in Miami, the daughter of Cuban immigrants. She graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice and then her Master of Science in organizational management from St. Thomas University.
She started her professional career at the Department of Business and Professional Regulations as an investigative specialist. In 1997, she graduated from the police academy and rose to become a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Baron retired in 2012 and is now a Regional Liaison for the National Criminal Justice Training Center, AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program. She is also an appointed member of the Community Action Board for Orange County District 2.
She is married to Edwin Baron and has four children.
Also expected to announce a run for Seat #2 is Greg Jackson and Leroy Bell.
Bell, who has run for city commission in 2018, and 2020, is close to announcing his third run for city commission since 2018.
“I am checking out my options,” he told The Apopka Voice earlier in the month. “We are doing a community survey and speaking to some of my supporters, and we’ll know something in the next week… but as of now, I am planning on running.”
Greg Jackson, who is the co-host of the radio show “Let’s Talk About It with Rod Love and Greg Jackson”, did not confirm or deny a run for the city commission earlier in the month, but did post this on his Facebook page earlier in the month:
“This morning I woke up, looked myself in the mirror, and asked: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” I push the envelope a little too much to continue sitting on the sidelines. The one thing I can say at this time is that there is an opportunity to serve and be impactful. I have worked very hard to do both as a private citizen.”
Jackson is a local attorney and previously ran for the Florida Legislature (District 45) in 2016.
Qualifying for the special election begins at noon on August 26th and ends at noon on August 28th. The election is November 3rd, and if a runoff is necessary, it will be on December 8th.