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Winter Garden

District 4 candidate Dawn Antonis seeks 'smart growth' and greater environmental protection

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Norine Dworkin

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

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Paul Morrison/VoxPopuli

Dawn Antonis: "I don't want to 'pave paradise.'"


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With her campaign slogan It’s a new Dawn, Dawn Antonis, 55, is challenging incumbent Colin Sharman, 44, for the District 4 seat he’s held on the city commission since 2006.

Antonis hails from New Jersey, where she studied psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison before getting her masters in psychology, focusing on criminal justice, at the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs.

For the past 30 years, her day job has been to develop training programs to ensure that companies basically follow their industry’s rules and that employees behave in an ethical manner. Her work has taken her into the pharmaceutical, government, financial and private sectors. “Part of my responsibility is to make sure people understand how regulations work, how they apply to doing your job and how important ethics are in the workplace,” Antonis says.

In 2013, she settled in Winter Garden’s District 4 with her husband, daughter and foster son, now both 18. A step-daughter, 27, lives in New York City.

VoxPopuli editor Norine Dworkin sat down with Antonis over a couple of charcoal mochas from Axum to hear her ideas for Winter Garden and District 4.

Norine Dworkin: I’m fascinated that ethics training is part of your job. How would you bring that experience to bear as a city commissioner?

Dawn Antonis: That’s a great question. Any city commission has relationships and partnerships. While those can be a helpful means of getting things done, I would like to see a more transparent way of making decisions about policy. I would bring my highest ethical standards. And if I witnessed anything that I thought was against our ethical platform, I would raise it as an issue. I would not pretend it didn’t happen or that I misunderstood. I would dig deeper and try to find out what the issue is. I also wouldn’t be opposed to bringing in ethics training for the commission. There’s nothing like actual training on why these things are important.

ND: Tell me about your platform.

DA: Smart growth is an important element of my platform. Just the other day, my husband and I came downtown for hot dogs and we were saying how busy it was on a Sunday. When we first moved here, there wasn’t as much foot traffic; there wasn’t as much car traffic. Winter Garden has grown. I don’t want to sound as if I’m against development. I’m not. I’m for smart development. 

We need to look at things from a more strategic point of view. We need to do a better job of assessing before we green-light projects. I feel like in the name of growth and business development, things are just Yes, Yes, Yes, More More More, Bigger, Bigger, Bigger. I don’t think that‘s the right strategy going forward. I also want to be part of determining what our criteria is for making a decision for how businesses are opened up in our town and whether we are evaluating them with that same criteria. We need to be giving everyone the same fair shake.

The other element of smart development is the environment. I’m a big advocate of protecting the environment. When I first moved here, there were always orange groves and you could not only see them, but when the wind was just right, you could smell them. Now there are just more houses. I wonder what impact it’s having on the animals, the plants, the water and the air. I don’t know what the criteria is by which they’re making the evaluations, but I want to make sure they’re following environmental protocols and that they are up to standard. I want to make that one of my projects and make sure whenever a large project is embarked on, we do the environmental impact reading before anything and decisions are made on relevant data. 

People come here because it’s beautiful. It’s green and it’s fresh and it’s gorgeous. We want to make sure we still have that environment that people can appreciate. If we steamroll it, it’ll be like that Joni Mitchell song: You pave paradise and put up a parking lot. I don’t want to pave paradise.

ND: You were at the city commission meeting when residents from three communities along Marsh Road came to speak about how disruptive the dump trucks from the Center Sand Mine in Clermont have become to their quality of life. The residents organized to present their case at the commission meeting en masse because they'd said that earlier calls to the city to get the dump trucks off the road had been rebuffed. Can you speak to that?

DA: That’s the antithesis of my approach. I want to listen to the issues the people have and bring those issues forward. I want to be a conduit. I don’t have the same number of years experience as my opponent, but I feel like I don’t need to. Sometimes having too much experience works against you because you get set in your ways. It’s time for a change in  perspective. What I want to do is be the voice of the people. If I got calls from constituents, I would be all over that. You’re hit with problems all the time, and my answer is never, You just have to live with it. My answer is Let’s research it, and we’ll find a way.

ND: How do you see supporting businesses as a commissioner?

DA: I have some ideas for Strolls. Have you ever been to a Nantucket Christmas Stroll? A Christmas Stroll, for instance — though it wouldn’t  have to be for Christmas — is a good way to bring in customers to our local businesses. What you do is block off the roads so you can’t drive into town. Everything is walking only. They do things like put up Christmas trees that the schoolchildren decorate. Some of the churches lead Christmas carols. And people come out and shop. Each shop has something they’re promoting, and they also serve warm spiced cider or champagne. People have a drink and shop and enjoy the community. 

Winter Park does these on a regular basis. I’m a big advocate of not reinventing the wheel, so I’m always keeping my eye out for things happening in another community that I think we could try here. These are trying times. And yet new businesses are opening up in our town. I want to continue to give them the support that they need.

ND: What else is on your agenda?

DA: I’m concerned about access to education. One of the other elements of my platform is identifying the city’s plans to ensure that every child has access to the internet and a computer so they can do online school. I’d like to evaluate what’s happening in our community and what the data says about who needs what. I know that Spectrum makes sure that certain communities get what they need so kids can go to school. Is that happening in our city? It could be, which would be great. But if it’s not, how do we get that to happen? There’s such an inequity and I want to make sure there’s a level playing field for everybody.

ND: Commissioners are responsible for making board and committee appointments. According to Census data, Winter Garden is 53.6% non-white. And yet the city commission is white and the vast majority of those on committees and boards are white and predominantly male. What would you do as a city commissioner to help make the city commission more reflective of our community at large? How will you reach out beyond your own contacts to promote greater diversity within the city commission?

DA: We need to have some serious diversity conversations in this town. It’s an important issue. I would do everything in my power to include more women and people of color in these important roles. It’s sad that we still have to keep having this conversation and keep having this fight. I don’t think you can possibly get a fair representation of what the people’s needs are when you’re not giving the voices to the people and giving them these positions. I would absolutely focus on including more women and more minorities in those positions.

View Dawn Antonis's campaign video.

Need to register to vote? Go to to register by February 8. 

Election Day is March 9. Polls will be open 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. 

Early voting is March 1-5 at the Supervisor of Elections office 119 West Kaley Street, Orlando, FL 32806 8 A.M. to 5 P.M.

If you voted by mail in the general election, you should receive a ballot for the municipal election. Such requests are meant to be good for two elections. But check your status to be sure.

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