Kelly Semrad

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Candidate, Orange County mayor

Public Service

  • Never held elective office.

  • Co-Chair District 5 Neighborhood Advisory Council

  • Member, Orange County Redistricting Committee

Occupation

University of Central Florida, Associate Professor,
Rosen College of Hospitality Management

Education

  • University of Central Florida, PhD., Tourism and Hospitality Management

  • St. Thomas University, M.S., Sports Marketing and Management

  • University of Oklahoma, B.S., Communications, 2000

Religion

Christian

University of Central Florida associate professor Dr. Kelly Semrad, 45, a community activist and environmentalist, is challenging fellow Democrat Jerry Demings for his mayor’s gavel. A community activity and environmentalist, Semrad, the only woman and the only Hispanic in the race — she’s Mexican — told the Orlando Sentinel during a candidates forum that she was “fighting to ensure that the people’s voice is not just heard, but that policy is produced that functions off of what the people need.”


Semrad, of Orlando, sued Orange County over the harms of urban sprawl — and won. Still, nothing changed. So, as she told the Sentinel, when the legal route didn’t yield results, she took the political path.


“We got to put somebody in the mayor’s chair who is standing in front of the people as a leader, standing beside them as their neighbor and behind them to support them. I have not seen that in the leadership. That’s why I’m running.”


Now, she’s in a four-way race that includes Ret. Army Colonel Tony Sabb and tech entrepreneur Chris Messina.


Unlike closed primary races, Democrats, Republicans and Independents can all vote in nonpartisan races. The candidate with more than 50 percent of the vote will be mayor. If no candidate wins a majority in the primary, the top two will face off in a run-off election on Nov. 8.


Protecting Split Oak Forest from the Central Florida Expressway’s plan to build a toll road through a portion of it is a key pillar of her campaign. But Semrad has also come out strongly against the mayor’s proposed 1-cent sales tax increase that will be on the ballot in November.


“Right now, we’re facing the worst inflation in 40 years,” she said during the Sentinel candidates forum. “Our number-one sector, tourism, does not pay a livable wage for many of the people working there. Affordable housing is an emergency. Rental prices are going up. Gas prices are going up. Food prices are going up. I can tell you right now, that now is not the time when you go to your people and talk about raising their taxes. Period. Now is the time when we talk about what do we do to help our people, our citizens.”


When it comes to affordable housing, Semrad, who is refusing donations from developers, builders and special interests, wants to refurbish existing buildings and work with hotel chains to bring rundown or closed properties up to standard for housing. She also wants to limit land speculation to prevent investors from gentrifying areas. In addition, she favors “segmenting the population” that needs housing, like those with mental illnesses, because there are federal grants available for housing that population. Finally, she favors a rent moratorium for a year to give the county time to “think creatively” about all of the solutions that could be utilized to fix the affordable housing shortage.


Semrad said she’d like to see county-wide voting for all commissioners in an interview with Justin Warmoth of The Weekly on ClickOrlando.com. It’s part of her advocacy for government accountability. “Maybe if I, as a resident of District 5, get to vote on Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6, maybe then they’ll [the commissioners] listen to the people because they have accountability. The people all get to vote on them.”

Semrad borrows the language of the pro-choice movement — “My body, my choice” — to argue against vaccine mandates. But then adds, “This said, we must all do our part. If you feel sick stay home, wash your hands, avoid touching face, avoid large crowds, wear a mask.


A couple of other campaign pillars worth mentioning from her website:


Semrad is the only candidate to make ending LGBTQ+ discrimination a campaign issue. And without naming it “structural racism” Semrad simply says, “we acknowledge existence of and remove systematic barriers that prevent the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals …” Then she listed people of color, LGBTQ+ people, those with disabilities, and other often marginalized groups.


As she told ClickOrlando.com: “People are ready for the change where the people come first.”

— Norine Dworkin