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Iliana R. Jones

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Candidate for District 2 City Commissioner

Public Service

Has never held elected office. 


Vice President, Empire Finish Systems


University of South Florida, BA, General Business Administration, 1999

Iliana R. Jones is making a second run at representing District 2 on the city commission, attempting to unseat her neighbor, incumbent Commissioner Ron Mueller, who beat her in 2021, while also holding off a challenge from yet another neighbor, Danny “DJ” Culberson. (It’s true, they all live on the same street.)

The election is March 19. Mail-in ballots are already arriving in mail-boxes. Early voting starts on Monday, March 4 at 10 a.m. and runs 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. daily through March 17. See the front page of the Election Guide for where to vote.

If Jones wins in District 2, she will be one of just five women to ever sit on Winter Garden’s city commission, including Commissioner Lisa Bennett who represents District 1 and the winner of the District 3 race between Karen Mcneil and Chloe Johnson.

Jones, originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, has been in Central Florida for 40 years, as she told VoxPopuli in 2021. She’s married to Charles P. Jones and has lived in Winter Garden since 2007. They have no children.

Jones worked as a real estate agent from 1990 to 2020 and was associated with Windsor Realty, the same company as Commissioner Bennett, who launched the Mueller investigation with the false accusations that he threatened to fire city staff. 

Today, Jones co-owns Empire Developers and its associated companies with her brothers, Frank and Sal Ramos (running for mayor in Oakland). In 2021, she told VoxPopuli she was “not a developer," however, Empire Developers dates to 2016. 

Jones also has a stake in Empire Finish Systems, Empire Foam, Empire Management Properties, Instant Fuel, 3R Hold Co and Industrial Center @429. It’s unclear what her title is. She told VoxPopuli in 2021 she was chief financial officer for Empire Finish Systems. Sunbiz filings list her as a vice president of Empire Finish Systems, a manager at Empire Development and an owner of Instant Fuel in Tampa.

Jones is president of the Britt Property Owners Association, and she was appointed to the Winter Garden Architectural Review & Historic Preservation Board in July of 2022.  (The board cancels its monthly meetings more often than it holds them, but of the six meetings held since her appointment, Jones attended four.) She also served a year on the board of The Local lifestyle magazine,

Jones has not responded to multiple phone and email requests for an interview with VoxPopuli about her 2024 platform. Nor did she participate in the Feb. 21 Winter Garden Candidates Forum sponsored by the National Congress of Black Women. Instead, she has held private “friend-raisers” and meet and greets for supporters.

But browsing her campaign Facebook page, we found Jones had answered at least one resident’s question:

A lot of candidates are running on the stance to keep Winter Garden family friendly. However, too often that term is used as a way to hide intolerance and promote divisiveness, limiting the definition of family to ones that look like their own or what they believe a family should look like. If elected, what would you do to not only promote the acceptance, but affirmation and protection of LGBTQIA+ families like mine here within our city?

Jones responded:

Thank you for the important question. When I use the term “family-friendly,” I more specifically mean a place that is friendly-to-families (especially meaning children) not exclusively friendly to families. Also not friendly to only certain types of families, but all families. Our community is incredibly diverse and all are welcomed here. That is always on display, for example, while walking our beautiful downtown area where you will see many wonderful people of many different backgrounds and beliefs. Winter Garden is a loving place where all have a home.

In addition we gleaned four ideas from her campaign site — though there was no accompanying detail to flesh out how anything of these ideas might be accomplished.

  • “Find ways to retain and protect our green space”

  • “Allow for construction only that fits the current character fo the city”

  • “Support our police”

  • “Have an infrastructure-first mentality that prioritizes small living with the conveniences of a modern city”

While Jones would not answer our questions, “prioritize small living” sounds like it might mean apartments, which is something that her company, Empire Finish Systems excels at producing. The five completed projects showcased on the company website are all apartment complexes with several hundred units apiece.

Jones' campaign Facebook page is filled with short videos of her events where smiling people shake hands in large houses. But we didn’t find anything where she articulated why she feels called to public service and what she hopes to bring to the people of District 2. 

— Norine Dworkin
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