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Mom. Nurse. Elementary school teacher. The ultimate caretaker, now Lori Hart is running to take care of District 4

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Norine Dworkin

Friday, March 5, 2021

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Paul Morrison/VoxPopuli

Lori Hart: "I want to be engaged with the community. I want them to know that someone cares."


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The thing Lori Hart, 54, wants voters to know is that she’s not running for city commission as a politician — she’s running as a mom. A married mom to three daughters, ages 21, 19, 17, who spent 20 years as a critical care nurse and now teaches first grade at Ocoee Elementary School, Hart knows how to take care of people.

And now Hart, who’s called Ocoee home for 27 years, who “bought my second home three miles from my old home because I love Ocoee that much,” wants to take care of District 4 and by extension, the rest of Ocoee's citizens.

We met up via Zoom to talk about what she sees as the biggest issues facing Ocoee, Hart’s plans for a vaccine site at the Lakeshore Recreation Center, why it’s so important to vote and that rumor that the Ocoee mayor urged her to run.

Norine Dworkin: Why are you running for city commission?

Lori Hart: My mom always emphasized that no matter where you go in life, make sure you turn around and give back. Don’t burn the bridges that you cross. That’s been instilled in me. Being a part of the Human Relations Diversity Board, which is an advisory committee for the city of Ocoee, there are so many things that I realize that we could do better or do more of. I love serving my community. I loved being part of the Human Relations Diversity advisory board, and I wanted to take a step higher to be more helpful, not only to District 4, but all the citizens in Ocoee.

I know the needs of the city. I know the need for great schools. I know the need to have things available for us in the community, for stores, retail, doctors, gas stations, the infrastructure of things, so we don’t have to leave Ocoee to go to Winter Garden or Apopka or even Orlando. I want to make sure we have what we need in Ocoee.

Being out here campaigning, I heard the voices of the people and they don’t know a lot of things about how the city operates, even about something as simple as how much trash they can put out, what they can put out, what they can’t put out. That’s one of my pillars: “Getting To Know Your City” seminars so people can understand the different things available to them.

Even now, a lot of people didn’t know about the election coming up. They were like, “When is the election? I hadn’t heard of that.”

We have to get the information out into the community so they can be aware. Because the last election cycle, there was only 8% turnout in District 4. We have 8,000 people, and a lot of people just didn’t know. It’s important to get the information out there so people can know it’s election time. It’s an important part of our civic duty to know that we put leaders in place to take care of our city and the citizens that live in the city.

I want to be engaged with the community and find out what concerns them and be present in their communities. I want them to know that someone cares. I want them to know that someone is here, and not pop my head out of the ground when it’s close to election time.

That’s one thing I plan on doing as city commissioner is to let HOA [homeowners associations] presidents know that I’ll be in their communities so their residents can come talk with me. They’re going to know who I am — not just by a billboard or right before election time when all of sudden I’m doing a lot of things to try to get their vote.

ND: Tell me about the Human Relations Diversity Board.

LH: I’ve been a part of that board for a few years. Recently we put on the Day Of Remembrance, recognizing the descendants of the Ocoee Massacre. We worked for two and a half years. I learned a lot about what happened a little over 100 years ago. It’s good that it was brought forth as to what happened then … it was a tragedy … a catastrophic event. But we’re at a point now where we’re moving forward. Ocoee was known as a sundown city [where Blacks had either been violently driven out or were generally unwelcome]. Now we’re saying we’re a “sunrise city.” Let’s move forward and hopefully continue to bring in diversity.

We have our Black history, our Martin Luther King parades we put on, the Black History Month essay for the kids in the community. And we participate in the other events that the city puts on like Founders Day. [Editor’s Note: Last year the event was renamed the Fall Music Festival to better reflect the nature of the event.]

One thing I’d like to do is to let the people in the community know that there are so many advisory boards available in the city with vacant seats. So if you want to know what’s going on, it’s available.

ND: How do you do outreach to communities to help diversify those committees and boards so the city reflects the people it governs?

LH: Leadership should look like the community it represents. Out here campaigning, there are so many minority businesses that want to be a part of, and have attempted to be a part of, the city of Ocoee. So that’s one thing I’ll be looking into — how can we pull in different minority businesses to be a part of different recreation events in the community. For example, there’s a young lady who has a dance studio. I think it’d be a great asset as an after-school program.

I want to be able to reach out to different businesses in the community to encourage them to participate in after-school programs. Parents are always looking for after-school programs, and we do have a lot of religious facilities with tutoring programs. There are people that want to help but don’t know how to help. I hope to turn that around to tap our minority businesses to help enhance the city. They’re here. They’re contributing to the city. We should support them.

ND: And then you get these business owners on the committees and boards so they can be involved in making decisions that help shape the city?

LH: Absolutely. That’s very important. That’s why we need to get the information out about what’s open on these advisory committees and if they’re interested make them feel welcome. But they have to know that the opportunity is there. The city needs to follow up a bit more and get that information out to the citizens. I know they have it on their website, but not everybody knows where to look.

ND: What do you see as the biggest issues facing Ocoee now?

LH: Right now, several things:

Education. I know I’m limited because we have a school board, but I look forward to working with Melissa Byrd [Orange County District 7 School Board member]  to see what we can do to support our schools, our teachers and our students. Right now, parents are concerned about their children’s education. I’m getting emails about whether there’s tutoring available. I’d like to offer free tutoring for the FSA [Florida Statewide Assessments]. Parents are concerned about the upcoming FSA. They want to make sure their children do well when they take the test, and I want to be able to have services available to give that extra support. Our schools have been helpful but it’s always good to have that extra support. With Covid-19, a lot of parents lost their jobs and now can’t afford tutoring. So to have these resources available would be helpful.

Balanced growth is one of my pillars as well, making sure that businesses that come into our community benefit the citizens of our community, that industrial businesses are kept in industrial areas and don’t come into our residential areas so we don’t have big trucks coming down our roads.

Infrastructure, so we have the roadways available so we can travel around town. Grocery stores, retail, doctors offices — keep this within our community. Knowing that everything we need we can have it here. When my kids were growing up, I had to travel outside of Ocoee for a pediatrician, and I had to travel a pretty good distance. So maybe the next mom, the new mom, the next family will have these things nearby without having to travel so far.

And I want to make sure that we keep our waterways clean. I love fishing at Starke Lake with my husband — but I don’t touch the fish. I usually get more fish than he does. It’s fun.

All these things are very important. We want to leave a healthy community that our children will be proud of, that our citizens will be proud of.

ND: Let’s talk about Covid-19. As a commissioner, how would you help keep Ocoee residents safe given that Gov. DeSantis declined to issue a mask mandate.

LH: The first thing for me is to be an example. I have to be because I’m out there. Everything I do, even standing on a street corner, I have my mask on. It’s a way of me protecting you and you protecting me. We have to wear our masks — and make sure you wear it above your nose; if you wear it down here, it’s like not wearing anything. And we have to wash our hands and not touch our faces. That’s the beginning. It’s amazing how many illnesses we can prevent if we just wash our hands. And if you’re accessible to soap and water, hit the soap and water over hand sanitizer.

You’re limited in what you can do when you have the governor and all that trickling down to the cities. I’ll be staying in contact with Dr. [Raul] Pino, [director of Florida Department of Health in Orange County] to see what he’s doing and how we’re progressing within the county. I’d love to have the opportunity to bring in a vaccination site within the Lakeshore Recreation Center when vaccines become more available for the general public. We have the facilities. Why not set it up there? Then it’s open to all the citizens to come and get vaccinated. 

I hope we can bring vaccines into our city where they’re accessible, even if it means going into communities. I’m willing to be one of the people who vaccinate if I need to. It’s important that we make our community aware. We have a history, the Black community. It takes a moment to see how it goes.

ND: You're alluding to the understandable reluctance and skepticism in the Black community about getting vaccinated because there's a terrible history that African-Americans have had with medical experimentation. There was the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, funded by the U.S. Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which looked at the “natural,” aka untreated, progression of syphilis in Black men. And more horrifying, the surgical experiments that Dr. J. Marion Sims, considered the “father of modern gynecology,” did on enslaved Black women without anesthesia. Is there perhaps media outreach that could be done to reassure the Black community that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe since the Black community has been hit so hard?

LH: It will be helpful for leadership to step up, and once people see them get vaccinated, I think it will put them at ease. I think for the Vice President, to see her, and even the President Biden … if they’re giving it to the President and the Vice President of the United States, it must be OK. But it would be helpful if the local pastors stepped up and encouraged their parishioners. That would be helpful because so many people look up to their pastors.

ND: There’s a narrative out there that Mayor Rusty Johnson asked you to run to split the Black vote. Would you like to comment?

LH: That’s 100 percent not true. I never talked to the mayor about anything. I filed my papers to start my campaign on December 2. The only people who knew that were my husband and my beautiful girls after they gave me their blessing. So that is 100 percent not true.

ND: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

LH: Voting is very important, and I would like to encourage the people of Ocoee to vote. I think the last time only 8 percent of the community voted, and Mr. Oliver won by 41 votes. It’s very important that we vote. I’m Lori Hart. I love my community. I raised my three daughters here. My girls attended Ocoee schools. I want to represent my community.

It’s very important that if you take on this position as a city commissioner that you take it on in a way that you have the citizens at heart, not for personal gain, not to use it as a way to propel your career. You should be committed as you sit at that sacred desk in the chambers, whatever you decide to do that you have the interests of Ocoee citizens in your heart and make decisions that will represent them and the community.

Will you be able to make everyone happy? No. But will the decisions be in the best interests of the majority of the city? Yes, because I’m serving the citizens, not just District 4, but the entire community. I think about the pros and cons and go by the facts because I’m a nurse. I take my time because I want to make sure my decision won’t impact my city in a negative way. This is my city, and I want to make sure to represent that.

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