Interview with Ms. Lawanna Gelzer–Candidate for State House Representative, District 36
Conducted by: West Orlando News Online
Date: September 29, 2010
WONO: Could you please introduce yourself? Tell us who is Lawanna Gelzer?
Lawanna Gelzer: Well Lawanna Gelzer is a native Floridian. I have been in Orlando since 1971 and I consider myself a community server. I work with non-profit organizations on issues for those who are less fortunate economically, because I believe in supporting people and communities. I have served on numerous boards and believe in public service.
WONO: What prompted you to run for District 36?
Lawanna Gelzer: District 36 is one of those sleeping giant seats, and I had been hearing a lot of people in the District complaining about their representation or lack of representation. So, I felt I would be a better person to serve the community, not against them. I believe in serving from Tangelo to Eatonville and I don’t exclude anyone from the services that I will provide for them as a representative. More than that, I am not going to show up every two years and ask someone in the District to vote for me because I am a Democrat. I want people to hold me accountable. I want people to look at my public service record and see that I am the candidate for them and that I am not going to abandon them.
WONO: Are you running as a Democrat or a Republican?
Lawanna Gelzer: I am running as an Independent. I have been a registered Democrat since 1980, since I have been voting. However, I have looked at what people are saying and the bottom line is I am running as an Independent. I am running against a Democrat who has not served the community in four years based on what people are saying. I am running against a Republican. I am the only minority running for a majority-minority seat. So, I am running as an Independent, but if you look at my history you will see that I am still registered as a Democrat.
WONO: There is speculation that you are running to split the Democratic vote so that the Republican will win. Is there any truth to that?
Lawanna Gelzer: It is a rumor that was started by my Democratic opponent, Scott Randolph who has not shown up to anything. So, what I am going to do is challenge Scott Randolph in all the media. Get in touch with him and find out whether he had done his job representing the people of District 36? People that have helped put him in office will tell you he has been missing in action. So, that rumor has been started because he knows that I can win this race. This is a Democratic seat and it can be won by a minority female, like me, who is going to serve the community and not forget them. My Democratic opponent is worried because he did not do what he was elected to do and that is, serve the people of District 36. So of course he is going to start a rumor that the Republicans put me up. Most of the media know this is not true. Only one media outlet called me with that lie. I nearly told them, “If you want to talk about the issues, talk about the issues. Don’t call me on this because it is disrespectful and it has nothing to do with issues”. That’s what people care about–the issues. So, I want to be clear, I am an individual. I am a strong woman. I have been in this community for a long time. I can stand on my own two feet. No one can convince me to do anything unless I want to do it. So, no Republicans haven’t pushed me up. However, I do welcome their support and I am getting their support and Independent support, Libertarian support, Tea Party support and Democratic support because I am running on “I am the people’s candidate” and the people want someone who will represent them and get the job done.
WONO: What are the key challenges that the people in District 36 face and if elected, how will you tackle them?
Lawanna Gelzer: The main thing I should point out first about District 36 is its uniqueness and many do not realize this. It is truly an Interstate-4 corridor. And those who don’t understand this when it comes to state races, local races—they’re switch voters, they are voters who don’t look at the party affiliation but look at an individual and what he or she stands on—do so at their own peril. So, the District is quite unique–it is a melting pot of people and you have to be able to serve those needs. There is the issue of job creation because, we do have the inner city in the District. Parramore is in the district. Also, we have Oakridge where we have a high percentage of unemployment and so, there is the issue of job training, skills training to better equip people for the workforce. Then, there is the issue of education, there are schools like Oakridge, not in the District, but a couple of blocks out of the District, with poor quality achievement. So, you need to talk about education–what can be done to improve the quality of education and relatedly, increasing the numbers that graduate and ensuring that they are equipped to enter the workforce. Public safety is another important issue, particularly in the context of Orange Blossom Trail. All of these aspects are key concerns for the people in the district—jobs and job training, education, and public safety—these are the issues we need to be talking about and how we can make them better for the people that reside in District 36.
But, I want to tell you that my opponents are refusing to debate the issues. They have refused to show up to speak on the issues. As a matter of fact I went to the Center for Drug Free Living and the Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando. They refused to speak on the issues. They were at a table passing out literature but Scott Randolph didn’t get up on the stage and say one thing. That is avoiding the people that you need to represent because, there were a lot of people from my district there. So I am calling him on the carpet. The road and yard signs are nice but let’s talk to the community. Let them know what you are about instead of riding in on a hiccup. Let’s talk about the issues. So I have challenged him and I am challenging him again. What are you going to do about the community? And their avoiding discussing what’s important to the people is a prime example of Scott Randolph not respecting the people in the district–refusing to show up and refusing to talk about the issues.
I have asked the Town of Eatonville to put a debate together. I also know College Park is putting on a forum where we can come and introduce ourselves. I am pretty sure they might show up for that one, but we’ll see.
WONO: The State is facing a budget deficit of around $2.5 billion in the upcoming fiscal year. What would be some of your recommendations to close the budget gap?
Lawanna Gelzer: Well I have heard it is as high as $4 billion dollars. So if it is $2.5 that means they have shaved a couple of billion dollars off the budget, which is a good thing. But, I will stay this, the State cannot continue to carry a deficit so we are going to have look at how we can save dollars. But I don’t believe in cutting the first thing everyone always cuts, which is Social Services.
I don’t believe we should cut funding for education. I want to talk about education and the Lottery and what the Lottery was supposed to do. It was supposed to enhance education. So, when I voted for the Lottery I thought we were going to get, let’s say, $100 million, which I am using as a figure of speech because it was way more, but what happened was that for every dollar that the Lottery contributes to the Educational Fund, a dollar was removed and put into the General Fund. So, what everyone should understand is, there is money there but we need to make sure that the money stays in the designated fund that it is suppose to be for, to serve the community. These dollars ought not to be moved by the Legislature for their earmarks, or for their communities and what they want to enhance, where it will not benefit the entire State.
While I don’t like to use the word, I am all for user taxes. If you use the product, maybe you can pay some additional funding. A lot of people don’t want to hear about that, but we need to think of new ways to raise money in this State. But we also need to be fiscally responsible and make sure we don’t overextend ourselves. These are hard times. People don’t want to call it a recession, it’s a depression if you ask me. I have an economics background and it is going to take some time and effort to get us out of the situation the State is in. So people are going to have to toughen-up, tighten-up, and think about new ways that we can collaborate to make sure the State goes forward.
WONO: Talking education, a couple of months ago Governor Crist vetoed the Teacher Merit Pay Bill, SB 6. What is your view on that?
Lawanna Gelzer: I think he did the right thing. First of all, the educational system should be repaired, because it isn’t completely broken. We need to bring in new ideas. I agree that Governor Crist needed to veto SB 6 because you can’t hold a teacher entirely accountable for how students perform when many other factors determine this, such as educational resources or I should say, lack of educational resources. Listen, in many instances, there have been no new ideas or new learning techniques put on the table for educating our kids. You can’t penalize teachers right now when they haven’t had the resources they have been begging for to improve their schools. I suggest we give teachers the resources, let them try something new in the school system and then grade them later. Eventually, we are going to have to grade our teachers and give them merit pay. But, not now when we haven’t done the things that we said we were going to do. We talk about No Kid Left Behind, but the educational system is failing our young people. So now you want to penalize the teachers who take a profession that doesn’t pay a lot of money and say “Not only is it failing, but you’re going to get blamed for it. You are the scapegoat.” So, Governor Crist was right in vetoing it.
We need now to sit down at the table with the Teacher’s Union and let’s put new ideas out there, let’s talk about ways to improve education. I believe it can be done. But we cannot keep using the traditional ways to fix the problem. The problem has grown and we need to identify new solutions to help fix the problem.
WONO: The Class Size Amendment–the relaxation of class sizes, what’s your view on that?
Lawanna Gelzer: Well I did vote for reducing class sizes in 2002 and while I am not a parent, I feel like I am because I raised about 500 kids with my cheer-leading program. I’ve been in more PTA meetings that I can count. I am still involved in children’s lives, my nephew and other people’s children’s lives because, I understand they are our future. However, if I do vote for the current amendment on the November ballot, I don’t want to see another amendment two years down the road asking again to change the class size upward. I’m giving you the power now to say, “We got 19 kids, can we keep 19 kids in this class, and the core classes.” But don’t come back to the voters, including me, in two years saying, “Now I want to change it to 30 kids” because of budget cuts or what have we. I don’t want to see that happen.
WONO: So you support the Class Size Amendment on the November ballot?
Lawanna Gelzer: I am supporting it because it is giving School Boards the opportunity to utilize what is in front of them. They see what needs to be done I am prepared to give them the opportunity to fix the problem of class size once and for all. I don’t want to see any more amendments on the ballot asking to increase class sizes. This is it. We have got to fix the problem. This is a band aid; we still have a problem. But, approval of the amendment will allow you to begin fixing it from right now. But you still have to sit down at the table and figure out how to fix our educational system, because it is failing our young people.
WONO: How is your campaign going?
Lawanna Gelzer: I think my campaign is going well. I can always say I would like more advertising, and would like more people to be aware of what is going on. But, I am steadily getting more supporters. Recently, I made fliers with all my supporters and have sent out emails about what I am supporting and what I am against, and who is supporting me. The question is, who is going to get behind Gelzer. I know that I can win this race and I want to challenge every African American, every Hispanic American, Caucasians– let’s look at what is going on and vote for Gelzer, because I am going to make a difference. Don’t vote down party lines, especially African Americans because when we do that our vote and our voices are silenced because, people know how we are going to vote. And if we vote down party lines, you are going to get the same things you have gotten for the last four years, absolutely nothing. Send a message to my opponents that enough is enough. You want a person to serve you and that is Gelzer, running as an Independent.
WONO: A final question–Why should voters vote for Lawanna Gelzer and will we be seeing Representative Gelzer after the votes are counted?
Lawanna Gelzer: I am the best candidate and my public service record speaks for itself. Go to my website, lawannagelzer.com, or you can give me a call. I am willing to come and speak to anybody who wants to invite me. I believe in public service. I am really the only community activist who is running for this seat. Both of my opponents are attorneys and I commend them for that. But I do have a financial and economics background. I am back in school so I know what it is like returning for retraining. I am learning how to operate in the construction business and about sustainable living–green living. What I am learning now, I am going to bring that to the community. Times are changing and one needs to be able to adapt to the changing times. So, I am a student and understand about trying to get loans and all that that entails. It has been a while since I experienced it, since I went to school. I want people to vote for Gelzer because if you look at my opponents public records and look at what I have accomplished in the community, you would know that I am the best candidate.
WONO:So will be seeing Representative Gelzer after the votes are counted?
Lawanna Gelzer: Oh yes, I am confident of that. My victory party will be at Taste, which is a minority-owned restaurant in College Park.
WONO: Thank you.
Lawanna Gelzer: Thank you, too.
More About Lawanna Gelzer
Ms. Gelzer has over 25 years of providing fiscal management services to local businesses and individuals. She is the president and CEO of a fiscal management consultant company that services community-based non-profit agencies. In support of families, she is also the Co-owner of Peabo Childcare Center.
Gelzer has been a community visionary as demonstrated by her involvement with more than 30 organizations. “The residents of the 36th District desperately need a local leader working for them,” said Gelzer. Ms. Gelzer has firsthand knowledge, experiences and awareness of the concerns for constituents in the 36th District.
Gelzer has worked with community groups such as the League of Women Voters of Orange County, Tangelo Park YMCA, Orlando’s Community Development Neighborhood Improvement Corporation, and the Mayor’s Dr. Martin Luther King Commission to help improve the lives of many of Orange County residents.
APEX Urban News, TV Host
Nation Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. Greater Orlando Chapter, Member
Southwest Orlando Jaycees, Vice President
Historical Black College & Universities Scholarship Foundation, Board Member
Florida Minority AIDS Network, Vice President
National Minority AIDS Council, Member
Teen Age Pregnancy Prevention (TAPP), Task Force Member
Weed & Seed, Advisory Board Member
Kid Against Crime National Night Out, Organizer
Bachelor of Applied Science in Interior Design, Seminole State College, In Progress
Bachelor of Science in Construction Management, Seminole State College, In Progress
Bachelors Degree in Mathematics and Economics, Rollins College
Gelzer’s platform calls for solid measures to encourage job creation, public safety, health care, education and economic development in the 36th District. Corruption and the pursuit of privilege by government officials is an overarching concern to Lawanna Gelzer.
In 1989, Ms. Gelzer founded the Express Youth Foundation for at-risk area teenage girls. By providing programs that enhanced teen-age community involvement and character development, not one girl became pregnant as a teen. These programs included the Callahan Cheerleaders and the Callahan Dancers. These groups competed in and won many statewide and national championships.
In 1998, she spearheaded efforts in Orlando’s African American community to fund outreach services for HIV infected and affected individuals. Under her leadership, the Open Center provided case management, peer counseling, housing, nutritional counseling, food services and transportation. The Open Center was well known in the community for its many outreach efforts, which included many health awareness seminars and workshops.
In addition to her leadership of the Open Center, Ms. Gelzer served on the Florida Black Aids Network (FBAN), as the Vice President of Finance. Here, she managed the budgetary processes that were required by the many grantors. She targeted and identified many new grant sources that were recommended to the Network.
Ms. Gelzer’s many community activities include her service on boards and committees. She served as a board member on the City of Orlando Community Block Development Grant Program where she fought steadfastly for funding for many of the impoverished communities within our city. To this day, Gelzer remains an outspoken advocate for community improvement at all levels.
Contact Lawanna Gelzer
825 West Washington Street
Orlando, FL 32805
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