Retired AF Col. Anthony Davit turns his civil engineer's eye to solving Windermere's traffic, flooding problems
Monday, February 8, 2021
Anthony Davit: "I've always been a servant-leader."
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Retired Air Force Col. Anthony Davit — these days he goes by the more relaxed Tony — has traveled all over the country and all over the world, touching down on every continent. In his 26-year career as an Air Force civil engineer, specializing in heavy construction, Davit, 53, has been stationed in Italy and Guam. He did eight combat tours in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and surrounding areas. He even built a compacted-snow runway at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. (And yes, he says, seeing penguins everywhere “scooting around on their bellies was a riot.”)
Here in the States, Davit was educated at Purdue University in Indiana, earned his first masters from the University of Illinois and a second masters from the Air Force’s Air War College in Alabama. He was second in command of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, overseeing — at the time — 400,000 people. The base's size then was comparable to the population of Tulsa, Okla.
In 2017, Davit retired from the Air Force, and now he’s putting his engineering skills to work at Universal Studios, which headhunted him away from United Airlines in Houston to develop new attractions for its Orlando parks: Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay.
When the married dad of two — one daughter is an Air Force second lieutenant; the other daughter is a senior at Mississippi State University — began house-hunting for a place to perch while he built the latest lures for thrillseekers, he was immediately captivated by Windermere. VoxPopuli founding editor Norine Dworkin met up with Davit outside of Town Hall on a recent Saturday morning to talk about his aspirations. Just don't call him a "politician."
Norine Dworkin: You have to tell me about Antarctica!
Anthony Davit: I did some work with the National Science Foundation. We were doing airfield evaluations at the time, and we went to Antarctica to determine how you evaluate a compacted-snow runway. McMurdo Station has a runway called Pegasus, and it was normally over the ice cap. Well, sea ice down there is a green color, and any time you get sunlight on that green-color ice, it builds heat. What we did is we determined an area where the snow covering was not gaining or losing heat, and we compacted that. The white snow would reflect the heat. Then we could use the runway for a longer period of time to support the McMurdo Station.
ND: Did you see penguins?
AD: They were everywhere. They were pretty cool. It's funny when you see them cruise around on their bellies because their legs are so short they gotta get around faster so they just flop down and scoot around on their bellies. It's a riot.
ND: That's hilarious. So, switching gears ... why do you want to run for Windermere Town Council?
AD: I don't think of myself as a politician. I've always been a servant-leader. That was one of the things that drew me to the Air Force — serving the nation, serving the people. That’s one aspect I truly miss. In addition, I moved around a lot in the Air Force, so I was never able to get involved in the community or even grow roots. When I joined Universal Studios, my wife and I drove through Windermere and fell in love with the place. We were looking for a house, and lo and behold, a realtor was putting up a sign as we drove by. It was like fate. We thought, Let’s stay here a while; let’s put down some roots. So that desire to serve and the desire to engage in the community is why I want to run for town council.
ND: How do you see your experience in the Air Force serving you on the town council if you’re elected?
AD: Doing construction on installations is very similar to managing and doing public works in a town. The closest the experience I have was at Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington state where I was the deputy joint base commander. That installation had 47,000 military, 53,000 families and a supportive population of just over 300,000 people. And we managed 414,000 acres. Managing that installation and interacting with the towns in the area to manage traffic and other common goals, like security and fire, is what the joint base commander and deputy joint base commander do. It’s a direct correlation and applicable experience to what I could do with the town council, helping to make Windermere an even better place to live.
ND: What do you see as the most pressing issues facing Windermere now?
AD: The most pressing issue is all the traffic going through the Town of Windermere. This circle here [the roundabout near the farmers market] is vastly overcrowded as far as what its capacity for traffic is. We need to work with the county and state to figure out another route through to the west side of Windermere. This can’t be the only thoroughfare for everybody living in those new developments.
In addition, dirt roads are part of Windermere’s charm, so we need to figure out how to keep them viable. There are flooding issues that need to be addressed. Past members of the council have voted on public works to do that with the Bessie and Butler drainage projects. The dirt roads aren’t constructed like a typical road with a crown and drainage on the sides that funnels storm water to an area where it can be collected or diverted. Right now, the dirt roads are the drainage. You run water over a dirt road and it washes out. Several people have said, Just pave them. But that’s not what the citizens of Windermere want to do. They want to find a way to do the drainage properly and maintain the roadways. I’ve built unsurfaced airfields, so doing some roadwork around Windermere is in my toolbox. I have those skills.
ND: Reining in development so it doesn’t encroach on the Old Florida feel of downtown Windermere is a perennial concern. What are your thoughts?
AD: I’ve heard rumors that people are looking to redevelop the 500 block of Main Street. We need to watch and make sure development doesn’t impact the feel of the town. I call it “smart development," sustainable development. You don’t want a three-story building going up across from this historic Town Hall. Everyone has concerns. God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. I like to listen and understand people’s perspectives and make my own decisions as to the way we move forward. That will go for development as well.
ND: The pandemic is ongoing. Businesses are open. Caseloads are rising. Vaccines are coming, but there are numerous virus variants and infectious disease specialists are concerned that the virus is already developing resistance to the vaccine faster than anticipated. What can be done at the town council level to protect the citizens of Windermere?
AD: From a town council perspective, there are some local measures we can kind of push. I wouldn’t say “legislate” because that’s a little bit iron-fisted. That should come down to us as a state-level mandate if anything. Personally, I see this as a personal responsibility for each citizen. Wearing masks, social distancing. You can legislate that, but is that going to happen all the time? Some people just aren’t going to listen. It’s got to be a personal responsibility thing for the individual.
From a town council perspective, I think we keep doing what we’ve been doing. We cancelled the food truck venues. We have advertising campaigns at the ends of the town for social distancing, masks and washing hands. So, we continue to press that.
The virus variants are going to come. The vaccines will probably have to morph. This will probably turn into something we get a booster shot for every year like the flu. But the citizens of the Town of Windermere need to work as well. It’s a balancing act. We need to understand where everyone’s positions are. And take personal responsibility. If you have existing health conditions that will put you at greater risk, take greater measures. But from a town council perspective, I’m not sure there’s anything more we should legislate or suggest. That needs to be at the state level.
Unfortunately, the mask, the pandemic, has been politicized to the point where people quit listening to reason. It’s us versus them, which is an unfortunate state of our politics today. You should be able to talk with members of other parties and come up with solid laws for the people, no matter what political party you’re affiliated with. We’ve lost the ability to do that in this nation. I grew up in the military post-9/11. On September 12, this nation was united. That’s what we should have been. This entire planet should have been united against the virus. It got politicized very early. And unfortunately, it still is. The virus doesn’t care if you have a blue or red tie on. We took a harder stance on Ebola in Africa than we did rolling out for the pandemic.
ND: It’s important that government reflects the community. What will you do to promote greater diversity within the committees and boards of the town council?
AD: In past positions, I’ve always sought diversity. One, because of my upbringing in the Air Force. We call ourselves colorblind in the Air Force because it’s a slice of America. Everyone is given an opportunity to excel and do great things. Look at the chief of staff of the Air Force, General Charles Q. Brown, Jr. He’s an African-American man who grew up through the ranks. A four-star general. Everybody has the opportunity. That needs to happen everywhere. The council, all the committees, need to be a slice of Windermere. If there’s an area lacking, then we need to find people willing to serve. Otherwise some people’s voices are muffled.
At Joint Base Command, I saw a demographic problem there when I first got in. My deputy was a white male, my executive officer was a white male. When it was time to bring in new people, I had an all-female staff. My deputy was a female, my senior enlisted advisor was a female. My squadron commanders were African-American and people of color. If you surround yourself with people like you, you’re not going to get an alternate view of things.
Tony Davit, Mandy David and the rest of the candidates for Windermere Town Council will participate in a Zoom town hall-style Candidates Night February 10 at 7 P.M. hosted by West Orange Chamber of Commerce President Stina D’Uva and former Town of Windermere Mayor, Gary Bruhn.