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.

Former Apopka City Commissioner Diane Velazquez

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.”

Gene Knight

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.”

Yesenia Leon-Baron

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.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Well good, the citizens will have a choice with all the candidates running. I think they also spoke at the council meeting on you tube about a Griffin guy running, not sure, maybe I was dreaming. I know all the candidates except the Griffin guy and Yeseina. I am looking for a candidate who will represent the citizens of Apopka, and keep the millage tax rates down! Not someone who is too eager to raise taxes to give 6% raises to police department whiners! 6% raises= 12% property tax increases….NOT SUSTAINABLE to Apopka city budgets during pandemic times!!! INSANE, considering citizens are struggling with no jobs, can’t seem to get through the red tape to apply for unemployment, going hungry, can’t pay their rent, or home payments, etc. GET REAL, and I hope someone will represent the citizens instead of the squeaky wheel police department trying to extort more money for themselves, with their constant whining. I would love to see them appear before Mayor John Land, if he was still living, I know he wouldn’t put up with their antics! And someone who will actually care enough to actually be present ,at the council meetings, someone who will attend regularly, is that too much to ask??? Good luck to all! I can’t wait to vote for the general election!

  2. I hate special assessments added to property tax bills, also. I have opposed such as that, before the council in person, on the record. Now they are assessing people’s properties, and approving the assessments at the public hearings, and making motions to approve the assessments BEFORE they even KNOW the final amounts that will be added to their tax bills! City won’t know until Jan. according to Ed Bass…..NOT RIGHT!!!! Right now, the council members don’t know for how long that will be assessed each year, for how many years, or the amount put on their tax bill. UNREAL to approve under those circumstances of blind figures!!! They claim there will be options, I don’t believe it, and if you can’t pay, you WILL LOSE YOUR PROPERTY, bottom line, including your own home!!! One of the most dangerous money grabs facing any property owner!!!

  3. I also want to get it off my chest about this subject of the police and fire department facing hazards and that the general employees sit at desks all day. My husband is a former general employee who faced hazards daily, when he was employed by the COA. He installed water line pipes, other pipes, culverts, repaired customer water line breaks, some sewer work, got down in deep holes that easily could have buried him alive if they caved in, standing in deep water too, that he had to get down into, and got down in holes, doing pipe- fitting in the worst cold weather and horrid heat, with active natural gas lines right there next to the work area, that could easily have killed him, if they struck the wrong pipe, and could have blew him and the crew to high heaven, plus electrical high- powered lines buried beneath the ground, they could have struck. The sewer workers face highly infectious diseases daily in their work, with hepatitis, all kinds of diseases and germs, and now, yes, with covid virus in the sewer lines, along with other viruses that can’t be killed off. I have seen horrible ringworm infestations circling all around one sewer worker’s arms. My husband’s finger was crushed and broken right before he retired, installing a valve at NW Recreation Complex, and he had to go into surgery, they cut off his wedding band, and put a titanium pin in his finger, until it healed, so I get angry when the police stand up there at the podium, and act like they are the only ones doing dangerous work. So you will know the truth! I am proud of the COA general employees, and they get the shaft, as far as the pay and pension plan….31% percent less than police and fire departments, but you NEVER hear the general employees stand up there and complain, and whine to the city council like the police department!

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