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Politics & Law

Former Ocoee Commissioner Oliver holds city hall press conference after court rules he qualifies for March election

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Norine Dworkin

Editor in Chief

Sunday, December 10, 2023


Norine Dworkin

Democratic State Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis (far left), Wes Hodge, Russell Drake, Timothy Ayers and Vivian Lyte-Johnson joined former Commissioner George Oliver at Ocoee City Hall Dec. 8, 2023.

Democratic Party representatives hailed the Dec. 7 ruling by the Orange County Ninth Judicial Circuit Court that former Ocoee Commissioner George Oliver III was qualified to run in the March 19, 2024, election as a win for democracy and the citizens of Ocoee's District 4. 

Several fellow Democrats joined Oliver at a Friday press conference outside of Ocoee City Hall. Included were Democratic State Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, who represents Ocoee; Timothy Ayers, president of the Orange County Democratic Black Caucus; Russell Drake, founder and CEO of Build Black Daily; Samuel Vilches Santiago, chair of the Orange County Democratic Party; Wes Hodge, Democratic candidate for Orange County Supervisor of Elections; and Vivian Lyte-Johnson, a resident of District 4.

Oliver filed a lawsuit Nov. 27 against Melanie Sibbett as the Ocoee city clerk and Bill Cowles as the Orange County supervisor of elections, contesting the city commission’s Nov. 7 decision to disqualify him from running in the District 4 election after he had qualified when the election was originally scheduled for June 13.

“I want to say that over the last several months, our fair city has been under attack,” Oliver told assembled media. “Close to 9,000 residents, registered voters of District 4, has (sic) had their rights taken away from them. Our basic civil liberties have become a part of unscrupulous discussions by our elected officials.”

Oliver narrated a timeline of events, from the June election rescheduling to the Dec. 7 court ruling that allowed him to gain access to the ballot.

“I stand before you today as a qualified District 4 candidate for the election,” he said.

Several of Oliver's supporters made statements to the press.

Hodges, former chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, said the court decision was a win for democracy and the citizens of Ocoee.

“The courts looked at this case and decided that the city council, against the recommendation of their own city attorney, operated outside of the city charter. What we needed to do was hold them accountable, and thank you Commissioner Oliver for stepping up and challenging this in the court system.

“For many years we've watched this city council with elections, especially in Ocoee," he continued. "They have a very, very sad history. You expect, with that in mind, that the city council would be doing better, would be doing more and making sure that they're enfranchising their voters. But the fact that they scheduled a special election, to which Commissioner Oliver qualified, and then canceled it was, in fact, a violation.”

Vilches Santiago said preventing Oliver from running for election was “another attack on our democracy.”

“We've seen our democracy be attacked from Tallahassee, and now we're seeing it happen here at the City of Ocoee," Vilches Santiago said. "The Orange County Democratic Party stands with our democratic values and with our democracy and with people's ability to select who they want to represent them at all levels of government. So again, we're here standing in solidarity with Commissioner Oliver and with the voters and citizens of Ocoee and particularly the voters and citizens of this district.”

Ayers said he was here, speaking not as the president of the Orange County Democratic Black Caucus, but as a District 4 resident who just wanted to vote.

“I am extremely disappointed in my elected leadership here in Ocoee for the actions they took, my tax dollars that they've spent, to delay, to obfuscate the opportunity of those of us who live in District 4, the right to decide who represents us,” he said.

“And what I would say, not to the mayor, but what I directly say to his colleagues, is Let us vote, and let us do it in a manner that's conducive to the city charter and do it quickly, in a responsible way. And if the city decides to appeal, they're spending my tax dollars to deny me and 8,999 neighbors of mine the opportunity not to vote. And I'm here today, not to appeal to the mayor, but to his colleagues, and simply say enough is enough.”

Mayor Rusty Johnson told VoxPopuli the city will not appeal the decision. 

Drake compared Oliver’s situation to 18th century American colonists taxed by Great Britain’s Parliament without representation and said, “We're grateful that the court has come through with an injunction to say it is wrong to remove somebody from the ballot when they're a taxpaying citizen and they're eligible to run just like they're eligible to vote.”

Lyte-Johnson, who stood with Oliver but did not speak during the press conference, told VoxPopuli afterward that she was “delighted that the court system is working.”

“I’ve seen us go to court and it don’t work for us the same way it works for other people, so I get excited every time I see somebody who wants to really see the Constitution as an open document. We are all equal and it applies to us.

“What I really do not understand is what this commission thinks about," she continued. "Because when I come to meetings and listen to them, I’m just like Who are y’all talking to? My neighbors are not thinking about that. They just want to be able to vote and be done. They don’t want to come to commission meetings, right? But they are voters, so they want to be able to vote for their candidate. So I’m excited about that.”

In a separate interview Ayers said, ”Of course, it's a personal victory for George, but it's a greater victory for those of us who live in that district.”

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