Candidates Descend on Pine Hills
Nearly 30 candidates in races from Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Supervisor of Elections, State Senator District 12, State Representative District 46, to School Board District 6, among others, participated in the 2012 Pine Hills Community Candidate Forum on Thursday evening.
For close to two hours, more seasoned candidates seeking re-election, those new to the political arena and a first time candidate in the race for Orange County Sheriff who has “no clue” why he is running, pitched to and fielded questions from a nearly-full auditorium of 150 people at the Pine Hills Community Center.
Although there were no open fire-works, some candidates took the opportunity to get in a few barbs aimed directly at their opponents. There were also several favorites with the crowd, as evidenced by applause from supporters.
Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who has been in State House in Tallahassee since 2006 and is running to become the State Senator for District 12, was one of those who drew loud cheers.
“I am running for the Senate because what I have seen in Tallahassee is polarization,” she said to strong approval. “I am one of 39 Democrats in the House of 120 members and when you have that kind of imbalance you don’t get good policy, you get extremism.”
Thompson added that she is running to preserve and enhance public education which is under assault from the current Republican-led Legislature. Job creation is also another priority area. She would like to see investments in West Orange County as had occurred in East Orange County, she declared.
Conspicuously absent from last night’s candidates forum was Victoria Siplin, running also for Senate District 12. Siplin, who is making her first foray into politics and seldom speaks publicly, is the wife of State Senator Gary Siplin, who is being termed out. However, Fritz Seide, another candidate in the race, did show up.
With thirty-one years of serving the community in various law enforcement capacities, including nearly four years as Orange County Sheriff, Jerry Demings said he felt as if he didn’t need to introduce himself.
“For everybody in this room, I am your Sheriff,” he said. “I have been honored to serve as the 28th elected Sheriff here in Orange County and I look forward to continuing to serve you.”
Demings said that while there is more to be done, over the past three years, overall crime had fallen by more than 27 percent in the Pine Hills area and in the rest of the county. No doubt aimed at his opponents, Demings cautioned, “Some people will make their mouths say anything, but watch for their actions.”
One of those challenging Demings for his job is Mike Greene, a retired New York City cop and a 20-year veteran of NYPD. He said, on a per capita basis, it is safer in New York City than in Orange County, as there has been a historic reduction in crime and he was a part of it.
“We did it (reduce crime) through basic and advanced law enforcement strategies that I don’t see being used here,” said Greene, who has only been on the ground for two weeks, although he had been visiting Orange County since he was 13 years. “I could lower crime here in Orange County dramatically and quickly.”
Perhaps on the lighter side, Billy Frank Norris, the candidate who had “no clue” why he is running for Orange County Sheriff said, it was his first candidates forum and he was “really sort of out of sorts about what I am supposed to be doing and saying.” He said he was still “just trying to learn the ropes of all this,” to which the audience responded with polite applause.
John Tegg, former Chief of Police of Edgewood and Belle Isle and no stranger to elected politics said, he entered the race for Orange County Sheriff because he was asked to. He mapped out what he would like to do in the Pine Hills community. According to Tegg, who served for 27 years at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, some parts of Pine Hills report to the Apopka substation, while others report to Winter Garden.
“We need to bring Pine Hills together in one District, make it its own precinct with its own staff officers, own command and not keep it divided,” he said. “We need a sub-station right here.”
Then came some first-timers running to become the State Representative for House District 45.
An articulate Randolph Bracy, lll, said he is running because there is need to do more for the “young lady with two kids trying to get a high school diploma,” and “the sea of young African-American men, many from Pine Hills, in the jail on 33rd Street.” Bracy said he wants to make a difference in Pine Hills, Winter Garden, South Apopka and surrounding areas.
Not unlike Bracy and perhaps every other candidate, Shannon Currie who is also a contender for the seat, wants to make a difference too. Currie, a legislative assistant for Senate District 19 for seven years said, “I am running … to make a difference for our families and our community.” Her top priorities are, to create new jobs, make schools better and make communities and neighborhoods prosperous and safe.
Beryl McClary, an attorney who lives in the Pine Hills area said, she is running because the area needs a voice. Her concerns are not only social issues, but business as well. She is desirous of stimulating businesses so that malls like West Oaks will not close. She is also concerned about voter laws that are disenfranchising women and blacks.
Undoubtedly, senior to contenders like Bracy, Currie and McClary, Heinie Heinzelman said he decided to run for one reason – because Florida is the most politically corrupt state in the nation.
“I have chosen to run for one reason, to fight political corruption in Tallahassee,” he said. “I have a plan with substance which just might do the trick.”
Supporters of Pam Powell who is running for House District 46, made their voices heard when she took to the microphone. To loud hoots and howls, Powell described herself not as a politician but as a preacher who wants to go to Tallahassee to help advance communities like Pine Hills.
In her trademark purple suit and matching hat, Powell said her focus is on jobs, funding for education, crime reduction, and a re-entry program for ex-felons. I am for advancing things in the community and making a difference, she added.
Jason Henry, also a candidate for House District 46, told a moving story about the perseverance of his single mom, who though tired from her day job as a nurse still had time to devote to her son.
“What I learned from this is, no matter what road block you might face, you have to push through and hop over that hurdle,” he said.
Henry’s priorities are education, juvenile justice and job creation and economic development. He wants to fight against the privatization of Florida’s public schools and state prisons and called for programs for ex-convicts in order to re-integrate them back into society.
Given the very limited time-frame candidates had to articulate their platforms, Henry urged audience members to visit his website at: www.electjasonhenry.com.
Bruce Antone who is also in the race for House District 46 said, he is running because there is need for “an experienced hand on deck.” His priorities are education, K-12; families, including children and the elderly, jobs and community revitalization.
“I am experienced and I am that voice you need; I can provide that leadership,” Antone, a former state representative said.
There are two other candidates in House District 46. They are attorney Rosalind Johnson and Sean Bradford.
Johnson believes that it’s time for a change and that’s why she is running. In her view, many candidates just talk and when they get elected, don’t deliver on their promises. She wants to be a voice for everyone to effect change.
Bradford said his father inspired him to run. Education, vocational training, senior citizens and youth are his priority areas.
Candidates fielded questions on a range of topics including, crime reduction and public safety, candidates’ priorities, how to incentivize businesses, veterans issues, health care, job creation and public sector job cuts, privatization of public schools and state prisons, and public-private sector partnerships.
In view of the overwhelming number of candidates participating, the forum was divided into two distinct sections. Audience members subsequently heard presentations from candidates running for Clerk of Courts, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Supervisor of Elections and School Board Districts 5 and 6.
The Primary Election will be held on August 14, 2012 and the General Election is November 6, 2012.