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Winter Garden Politics

Yes, we still support Ron Mueller for city commissioner

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Norine Dworkin

Editor in Chief

Sunday, April 7, 2024


From Facebook

District 2 Commissioner Ron Mueller

First, let’s just get this out of the way: We don’t condone Winter Garden Commissioner Ron Mueller’s assertion without evidence that Mayor John Rees and Commissioner Lisa Bennett endorsed his opponent, Iliana R. Jones, for financial gain. Period. Full stop.

But before Jones supporters rip that sentence for attack ads or get-out-the-vote texts, we want to be clear that VoxPopuli still backs Mueller as the far better candidate for serving District 2 than Jones. Jones has refused to participate in community candidate forums, injected Republican Party politics into this nonpartisan race and was quick to make her own accusations without evidence in the Oakland mayoral election before getting called out on social media and forced to recant. 

What Mueller had was a theory: The mayor and his wife are landowners. Jones, as co-owner of Empire Development, is a developer. Bennett is a realtor. (Years ago, Jones was a real estate agent and also worked at the same agency Bennett does.) Rees and Bennett have both vehemently denied any quid pro quo. But it’s not implausible that these factors might, at some point, align for everyone’s mutual benefit. Still, without proof of any agreements today, that remains only an interesting theory, and Mueller should have been more careful in couching his comments as such.

After the mayor’s scorching rebuttal, members of VoxPopuli’s advisory board discussed whether this publication’s endorsement of Mueller was still appropriate. With one detractor  who advised pulling the endorsement, five other board members,* who last week participated in a frank Zoom call with Mueller, decided it  was. While not excusing Mueller’s action, VoxPopuli and its board continue to endorse the man and what he stands for — a more open, inclusive community where all in Winter Garden feel welcome, respected, seen and heard.

It’s the nature of politics that there are no perfect candidates; there are only those who best align with your values and goals. It is not unusual to disagree with and even be disappointed by something a politician does and still support them for office. Between Jones and Mueller there’s no contest.

Unlike Jones who has demonstrated no enduring interest in serving the public and who no-showed all public candidate forums where she might have been questioned by reporters or constituents not already in her camp, Mueller has shown up time and again and gamely answered any and all questions put to him.

Showing up for constituents — the primary job of any elected official — is Mueller’s strong suit. In our original endorsement, we lauded Mueller for making himself visible and accessible and responsive to constituents — as when Riegl tried to slide a helicopter landing pad into its headquarters design without informing neighboring residents — and for speaking out online against last summer’s antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech incidents when other Winter Garden officials were shamefully silent.

At a time of flux, when the commission has lost one of its most thoughtful members with the retirement of District 3’s Mark Maciel, residents need Mueller as a strong, independent voice on the commission, one who can be counted on to think critically, ask the hard questions when development projects come before the board and not be just another rubber stamp of approval.

*The advisory board members who participated in the Zoom included Dr. Robert Hasty, DO, dean and chief academic officer of the new Orlando College of Osteopathic Medicine; Anne Fulton of The Oakland Society; and Joseph Richardson, longtime resident of Winter Garden and a 2020 candidate for city commission. Danny “DJ” Culberson, a candidate for the District 2 seat before it went to a run-off, joined the post-call discussion. Ages Hart, who served as Ocoee’s interim District 4 commissioner for the last year, watched the recorded Zoom and shared his recommendations by email.

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