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VoxPopuli Endorsements

These are the candidates we believe will serve their cities best. 
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Nate Robertson — Ocoee District 4 Special Election 

The District 4 seat is not a consolation prize. It’s not what you get when you don’t win the mayor’s race. If former Commissioner George Oliver III truly wanted to serve the voters of District 4, he would not have quit on them halfway through his term to run for mayor. Ambition is wonderful, and perhaps one day he will be the first Black mayor of Ocoee, but it’s important to see through one commitment before embarking on another.  


Character matters. That’s why VoxPopuli is endorsing Nate Robertson to serve as District 4 city commissioner for the last year of this term. (Ages Hart has been serving as interim commission until an election could be held.)


Does Robertson’s view of the Jan. 6 insurrection give me pause? You bet it does. It’s incomprehensible that people still doubt that Trump supporters planned and perpetrated the riot. Robertson and I disagree on more political issues than we agree on — though Robertson is fond of saying that he likes to find the areas where there’s common ground and work from there. And as a political newcomer, Robertson doesn’t have nearly the local government experience as the twice-elected Oliver.


Still, what Robertson does have is integrity. He is an honest man. He is open and transparent and accessible, and he has answered every question put to him — even when it may have cost him politically. And in politics these days, even local politics, that is a rare quality. 


When I asked him why he wanted this commissioner-for-a-year gig, Robertson said, “For this very short term, I want to make sure ... that the residents of District 4 really believe that they have somebody who represents them. It's not really about Nate Robertson's interests. It’s about being the best representative for them that I can be.”


 For these reasons —forthrightness, sincerity, an embrace of public service, and above all, a sense of integrity — VoxPopuli supports Nate Robertson as the best candidate for District 4 commissioner.


Shane Taylor — Oakland Mayor 

Two men are running for mayor in Oakland since Kathy Stark, the town’s long-time mayor, decided to retire after 20 years as mayor and nearly 30 years on the commission.


Both men have long careers in local government: Sal Ramos has served nine years as a commissioner while Shane Taylor has 13 years chairing the Planning and Zoning Board.


Both men have a deep love for Oakland and its residents. Both men understand the need to nurture a commercial tax base in order to keep the quality of essential services like the police and fire departments high and property taxes flat to low. Both men have explained their plans and visions for Oakland’s next phase.


Taylor is the better candidate to lead Oakland into the future.


It comes down to transparency, accessibility and responsiveness. For a local official, those are essential traits. As this election season has played out, Taylor has consistently demonstrated a willingness to be open, transparent, accessible and responsive to Oakland’s residents. 


At his Prairie House Coffee meet-n-greet, Taylor spoke extemporaneously for 30 minutes about who he was and what his plans were for Oakland. Then he took questions from the crowd for as long as there were people who had questions to ask.


A few days ago, he posted information in the Facebook group We Are Oakland to help demystify how the Planning and Zoning Board operates relative to the town commission.

Taylor routinely pops into We Are Oakland to respond to residents' questions. His cell phone number is published, and he encourages residents to call. 


After his own meet-n-greet at Prairie House Coffee, where he read from the same plan that he handed out to attendees, Ramos was asked if he would take questions from the crowd. He said no, people could talk with him one-on-one if they had questions. The idea that all assembled wouldn't be privy to the same responses to questions was ... surprising. A candidate's ideas should be able to stand up to scrutiny in the sunshine, so a preference for private discussion gives us pause.   


Meanwhile, residents are clamoring for Ramos, who is still a sitting commissioner, to answer their questions. Three days ago, a resident posted in We Are Oakland:


So there have been many questions posed by the residents of Oakland and responded to by Shane Taylor, however Sal Ramos has not responded to a single one.. does he not think it's important to answer the questions of his residents if he truly wants to be Mayor or is this a situation of arrogance where he thinks he has it all in the bag... Mr Ramos are you going to answer any of the questions?


There were 25 comments, but still no response from Ramos. And if he’s not responding now, when he’s courting voters, why would anything change if he’s elected to office?

As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”


We believe Shane Taylor will make an excellent mayor for Oakland.

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Ron Mueller —Winter Garden District 2

                                   City Commissioner

Three people are running for Winter Garden’s District 2 city commission seat — incumbent Commissioner Ron Mueller and challengers Danny “DJ” Culberson and Iliana R. Jones.


Mueller is the best equipped candidate for the position and has earned another term to continue serving the people of District 2.


But we're gonna wave the flag a bit for Culberson. He has been like a burst of fresh air into this race, which is otherwise a rematch between the candidates who faced off in 2021. Culberson has energy and ideas — we applaud his city-sponsored small-business loans program, as well as his idea to expand day camps and summer camps and open city-run safe, affordable child care for working parents. And anyone willing to speak hard truths to power in an effort to make this city more inclusive is certainly welcome. 


We hope Culberson is playing a long game here. We’d like to see him stick around, get some committee and board experience and take another run for office. He is good for Winter Garden, but with an experienced incumbent, now is not his time.


As for Iliana R. Jones, the Orlando Sentinel chided her in 2021 for her “surprisingly thin” “resume of involvement.” She now serves on several local boards, like the Bloom and Grow Society, and of the six meetings that the Winter Garden Architectural Review & Historic Preservation Board held since she joined in mid-2022, she attended four. But for one who wants to be a city commissioner, she’s been a rare presence at commission meetings over the last three years, learning how it's done. Beyond that, it is not possible to endorse a candidate who has not responded to multiple emails or phone calls for interviews and did not participate in the Winter Garden Candidates Forum on Feb. 21, as Culberson and Mueller did. When candidates no-show and don't respond to media, it gives us no confidence they will be responsive to constituents. 


And that brings us back to Mueller. As commissioner, he made himself visible and accessible so that constituents could reach him. He regularly attends community events, maintains a robust social media presence and responds to constituent questions and needs. Recently, a Winter Garden resident reached out to say that her car had been repo’d on Christmas Eve. Mueller rallied the community to help and got local businesses to donate a car, pay for the registration and fill the trunk with groceries.


Mueller is about the “unity” in community and as such, pushed for the city’s DEI resolution, passed in 2022, and was the sole voice from the city condemning antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ+ hate when it surfaced over the summer in Winter Garden.


Even before he won election to the commission in 2021, Mueller served on the city’s Charter Review Commission and for two terms as an alderman in a small town outside of St. Louis. Plus, in preparation, he regularly attended city commission, code enforcement and planning and zoning board meetings so he could learn how the city of Winter Garden operated.


Once in office, Mueller demonstrated that his was not an easy vote to get. He is a careful reader of meeting agenda material and is known to ask hard questions of city staff and developers who come before the commission with projects.


He has made mistakes. The five-month drive for a forfeiture hearing, based on false accusations by fellow Commissioner and Jones BFF Lisa Bennett, fizzled out to nothing. [VoxPopuli was privy to the same documents that commissioners had and found no evidence that Mueller had threatened to fire city staff as Bennett alleged.] But the collected documents showed that he did send emails to staff when they should have gone to the city manager. That is a charter violation. But since the commission appears to pick and choose which parts of the city charter it upholds and which it ignores, this political tempest in a teapot does not change our opinion that Mueller should be re-elected.


Mueller is a dedicated public servant and will continue to serve his constituents with honor and integrity.


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Karen Mcneil — Winter Garden District 3

                                      City Commissioner

Two women are running for commissioner in Winter Garden’s District 3 since Commissioner Mark Maciel decided not to stand for re-election. Both Chloe Johnson and Karen Mcneil come from Historic East Winter Garden and both are committed to working for the district.


We believe Karen Mcneil has the temperament, the transparency, the maturity and the vision to best serve the people of District 3.


As political newcomers, neither candidate has a strong resume when it comes to local government. Johnson has spent a bit more time on city committees, but really not by much: four months on the Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board, eight months on the Planning and Zoning Board.


What Mcneil lacks in time spent on city committees and boards — she is a member of VoxPopuli's advisory board — she compensates for by having actionable plans for bringing commercial businesses to Historic East Winter Garden, such as her Historic Center Street Marketplace, which mirrors Plant Street Market with shops and eateries. 


We don’t know what plans Johnson may have because she has not shared them. There's nothing on her website, she no-showed two VoxPopuli interviews and did not participate in the Feb. 21 Winter Garden Candidate’s Forum because it was hosted by the National Congress of Black Women. According to one of her surrogates, she believed the forum would focus on national issues.


Johnson's website states that she's for “family-friendly, safe neighborhoods, low-density charm,” which is like campaigning on a platform of puppies, ice cream and Christmas. Basic. Generic. Any Candidate's ideas. In fact, you’ll find the same campaign points on Iliana R. Jones’ site: “Family. Low Density. Small town charm.”


Time and again Mcneil has shown that she’s her own woman and that she will speak up for what is right, what is just and what is best for her community. Sometimes that’s meant calling out the city manager in a room full of people to tell him that Historic East Winter Garden is not a den of drug users or drug dealers. That adults require different recreation options than children. And that the neighborhood's longstanding drainage problems need attention. 


So it should surprise no one when Mcneil says that she trained under the late Commissioner Mildred Dixon, the first woman to ever sit on Winter Garden’s commission. Dixon won that seat in 1985 after she first filed a lawsuit against the city claiming the city’s at-large voting discriminated against Black and minority voters. Dixon is revered as a tireless fighter for her community. We see that same fight in Mcneil. That’s why she gets VoxPopuli's endorsement for District 3 commissioner.

— Norine Dworkin 

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