Hope Bellamy makes a run for Ocoee’s open District 1 seat.
“Nobody calls me that! Nobody calls me that. Not even my mother!”
I’m over at Shuantae Bellamy’s house on Adair Street in Ocoee, which is also serving as headquarters for his tech company and his campaign hub for the District 1 seat that opened up when Commissioner Larry Brinson Sr. announced he would not seek re-election. Bellamy is explaining to me why he filed his candidate paperwork under “Shuantae Bellamy” — pronounced Shoe-wan-tay — but will be listed on the ballot as “Hope Bellamy.”
“Everybody knows me as Hope,” he says. “That’s just like me, that’s who I am. I want to help other people elevate.”
See what he did there? Help Other People Elevate. It spells out H.O.P.E. And there you have it. The etymology of his name. Over the years Bellamy, 45, has also gone by “CEO Hope” and, years ago, when he was selling shoes in Trenton, New Jersey, “Shu Hope.”
Bellamy’s house is spare. Just a few tables, a few chairs, a few computers. Pinned to the walls are a couple of campaign T-shirts and posters and a poster for his subscription-based online education site Zapz Academy. Teachers are encouraged to “create a course on almost anything,” according to the website, and “earn money through our royalty pool …and be compensated for new Premium members.” In the corner, a small bearded dragon scuttles around inside a tank. Outside in the backyard, a huge nine-month-old Rottweiler named Legend barks at the sliding glass door. Somehow Bellamy also inherited his daughter’s Chihuahua, and that dog is sequestered in a back bedroom, its protesting yaps echoing throughout the house.
Bellamy tells me he imported Legend from Germany, but that he hadn’t quite anticipated that the Rottweiler, a dog originally bred for driving cattle and pulling heavy wagons and which can easily grow to 130 pounds, would get, well, so … big.
“That’s my first dog. I never had a dog before,” he says.
I take some pictures, and we talk for a couple of hours about his campaign, his ideas, why he wants to be the commissioner for District 1 and how he believes he could change the city. Bellamy also tells me about his passion project, the Zigs Nation Digital Network, a platform of educational content and entertainment for kids, along with the “smart TV box” devices on which to stream it. In January, he announced on Facebook that he plans to take the company — dissolved as a corporation in September 2021, then re-established as an LLC in November 2022 — public.
Bellamy tells me he could have run anywhere in the world — “I’m well-known everywhere I go” — but chose Ocoee “because Ocoee got that potential to become great. And we still keep the old Ocoee values. It wasn't all bad,” he says referring to the 1920 Ocoee Massacre and its aftermath.
Bellamy supports expanding after-school programs and services for seniors, creating affordable and transitional housing, fostering a better relationship between the community and the police department and improving public safety.
Shaniqua Rose joined his campaign as treasurer because of Bellamy’s focus on education and public safety. “Those two go hand-in-hand,” says Rose, who ran for District 41 state representative in the midterms but lost in the primary, in a phone interview. “If people don’t have education and access to jobs, then crime is inevitable.”
However, his “main platform,” says Bellamy — who listed “IT Tech” at the staffing agency Manpower as his primary income source on his financial disclosure statement — is to make Ocoee a “smart city” by bringing in technology to fix problems, like WiFi dead spots.
“Where’s your nearest 5G tower? Where’s your nearest 4G tower?” he asks. He envisions a chip manufacturing plant in Ocoee that creates 300 jobs. He says he’s already scouting property locations.
Orlando is becoming the next Silicon Valley, he says, pulling up an article on Google that says as much. Changes are coming, and he doesn’t want Ocoee to be left behind.
“My technology wisdom is next level” he says.
Bellamy pledged that, if elected, not only will he donate his $4,000 commissioner’s salary to charity, but his Adair Street office will be open 24/7.
“I’m gonna be hands on,” he tells me. “Other commissioners, they got these other jobs.”
Leaving aside staffing issues and when he might sleep, Bellamy said something very different in a Jan. 12 Facebook video: Once his “smart TV boxes” hit the shelves within the next 30 to 60 days, he told his followers, he “will be living on the road … state to state, city to city, pushing like heavy” to break into the streaming market dominated by Amazon’s Fire Stick, Roku and Apple TV. He said he even bought a GLA Mercedes-Benz for the trip.
Bellamy shrugs off concerns that he can manage what are essentially two full-time jobs, one of which is about to have a major product launch. "I have employees," he says.
Here’s where things start to get weird. Because Bellamy, who has the passion of a community activist and the pitch of a marketer, often says things that simply do not survive the fact-checking process.
Bellamy told me he was putting his tech wisdom to use on a $23 million smart city project in Eatonville. He mentioned the project, although not his involvement, again during the Commissioners Political Forum Feb. 15 at City Hall. Both Eatonville Councilwoman Wanda Randolph and Town Clerk Veronica King told VoxPopuli that they are unaware of any such project.
Bellamy, who appears to have a multi-entry visa for China in his passport to facilitate the travel he says he does for his tech company, told me he is a “dual citizen” of the U.S. and China. China does not permit dual citizenship.
Bellamy has claimed that he has a degree from Chesapeake University. While there is no Chesapeake University, there is a Chesapeake College. It is a two-year community college in Eastern Maryland. According to the registrar, Bellamy enrolled for one course for assisted living providers.
Bellamy has claimed to be the #1 Urban Author and a “top 10 children’s educational author with 5 awards.” An Amazon search yielded no titles traditionally published or self-published by Bellamy. Asked about the awards, Bellamy refused to answer.
Bellamy’s adolescent prison record is one he readily talks about. It’s part of his redemption story. But he doesn’t mention a 2006 arrest in New Jersey for knowingly receiving stolen property (charges were reduced and eventually dropped). And his account of his 2018 arrest for the theft of $34 headphones from the Ocoee Walmart differs dramatically from the arrest affidavit, which states that a store employee saw him tuck PlayStation 4 headphones under his arm to shield them from the cashier, pay for a T-shirt, then walk out to the parking lot where the employee stopped him and led him back into the store and called the police. “Bellamy was then transported to BRC [Booking and Release Center] without incident.”
Bellamy insists he bought the headphones on his way into the store from a guy who needed money for the bus. “So I gave him money for the bus. Why do I need headphones? I got my own line of headphones,” he says.
A bond to get out of jail was posted for Bellamy, who pleaded no contest. He was ordered to serve one day in jail, getting credit for time served and pay a $517.69 fine. That fine increased to $1,001.19 when Bellamy was pulled over in February 2019 for missing headlights and was found to be driving with a suspended license for failure to pay those fines. (His license was restored earlier this month.)
I asked about the inconsistencies in some followup questions. Bellamy wanted to know why I wasn’t reporting on his “lawsuit.” So I checked. The only lawsuit I could find in Orange County that named Bellamy was a March 2018 eviction from South Ridge Apartments, which court documents show, he challenged. In a motion to set aside the Final Judgment, he wrote that he overpaid monies owed by $478. His request to reverse his eviction was denied.
One of the harder things to pin down is how long Bellamy has lived in Ocoee. During our interview, he said two years. He said seven years during the Woman’s Club of Ocoee-hosted political forum on Feb. 15. The South Ridge Apartments eviction in March 2018 was for an Orlando address. His August 2018 arrest affidavit listed a Trenton, New Jersey, address. A 2019 traffic ticket listed an address for an extended stay hotel on Orange Blossom Trail. In 2022, the address he gave the Orange County Clerk of Court for his fines and fees payment plan was a storage facility on Drenner Road in Orlando. Bellamy wouldn't answer follow-up questions about how long he’s been in the Adair Street house or whether that’s been his only Ocoee address.
Bellamy says he’s not running on his past. He’s running on what he can do for Ocoee’s future. “That’s what I want to talk about,” he says.
“My history is my history, but what is my current and my future looking like? My experiences and my connections looking like? I’m gonna fight for Ocoee because I'm not gonna let Orlando or Winter Garden outdo us. It's not going to happen because I know Ocoee can be back like it used to be with new values and new people.”
Election Day: March 14. Check Ocoee.org for voting sites.
Early voting: March 6 to 10, 119 Kaley Street, Check OCFElections.gov for hours.
Vote by mail: If you vote by mail, you will need to renew your request for a mail ballot even if you voted by mail in the last election. Prior on-file requests for mail ballots were good through 2022 and now need to be re-filed. Go to OCFElections.gov to request a vote-by-mail ballot.