Updated: Jan 29
Former congressional candidate enters District 3 race against incumbent.
The qualifying period for Ocoee’s municipal elections doesn’t even begin until noon Jan. 20, but the mayoral race — widely anticipated as a matchup between Mayor Rusty Johnson and District 4 City Commissioner George Oliver III — became more competitive as longtime Ocoee resident Chris Adkins jumped into the fray, making it a three-person race.
“The city needs a fresh face and some fresh ears,” Adkins told VoxPopuli in a Friday phone interview ahead of his official announcement of his candidacy. “Both Mr. Oliver and Mr. Johnson have been a part of local government. Mr. Oliver for less time than the mayor; the mayor’s been there 37 years. I think there’s a silent majority out there that would like to see some change. It’s not that everything is bad with Ocoee, but anyone who sits in one position for so long is ...” he trailed off. “Change is good. I want to be that person of change.”
Adkins, a property manager who's lived in Ocoee with his wife Cori and their two boys for 23 years, was even more blunt in his video introduction on Adkins4Mayor.com. He said he's grown frustrated with the "perception and the stigma" about Ocoee: "That we don't get along. We don't get anything done. And when we do, it takes twice as long and costs twice as much and doesn't turn out as we're told." He said that in addition to bringing some “long-needed transparency and accountability to city government,” his priority is to establish an identity for Ocoee and drive downtown business development. “Why do people come to Ocoee? Why do people want to come to our downtown? Why do people want to move here? We call ourselves the ‘Center of Good Living’ but we haven’t really established any kind of downtown identity, so I’m looking to do that.”
District 4 Commissioner George Oliver III made his widely anticipated announcement that he would challenge Johnson for the mayor’s gavel in a video announcement posted to his YouTube channel on Dec. 26 — which Oliver asked recipients not to share or post to social media. The two-term commissioner said he was “running to be the next mayor” and that his goal was developing a “strategic mission and vision” for the city.
“We have a mayor who’s been here close to 40 years, and we’re still trotting behind Winter Garden. We’re still trotting behind Apopka. We’re still trotting behind Windermere. We’re still trotting behind the cities around us trying to play catch-up. So over the span of 40 years, how far have we come?” Oliver said in the video. He pointed to Ocoee’s downtown, saying, “You can see that we are light years behind” what neighboring cities have accomplished.
“My goal is to establish strategic planning, to come up with a mission and a vision and everything we do in this city, from every tax dollar we spend will be spent behind those strategic drivers,” he said.
Reached by phone, Oliver told VoxPopuli, he wanted to implement an operational audit of the city’s finances, tracking how tax dollars come into the city and where the money is spent.
Oliver recorded his video in the Ocoee City Hall chamber where the city commission meets and requested campaign donations, which is a violation of campaign finance law. He later told VoxPopuli in a phone interview that he was “not aware” making such requests from city hall was a violation and that he never released the video.. As of Jan. 4, the video had 51 views. When VoxPopuli attempted to access the video again, it was locked.
Seeking his third term as mayor, Johnson, who has also served 27 years as commissioner for both District 1 and District 3, made a matter-of-fact announcement of his intent to “run one more time” at the Nov. 15 city commission meeting.
"I’m gonna try my best to win again because we have moved this city in the right direction,” he said.
District 3 is also shaping up to be competitive. Democrat Shante Munns, the high school track and field coach turned mental health professional turned entrepreneur who lost to Republican Congressman Daniel Webster in the Congressional District 11 midterm election, filed to take on incumbent Commissioner Richard Firstner.
When Munns ran for Congress, she listed the U.S. Post Office in Gotha as her address on her Statement of Candidacy form. That same address, 9907 8th Street, Unit 352, is still listed as her mailing address on her candidate paperwork to run for the Ocoee office. But under “Address” on the Appointment of Campaign Treasurer form, Munns initially wrote in her mailing address, then crossed it out and wrote in an address for a Windermere apartment complex just inside District 3’s southern boundary.
Ocoee does not require residents to live in Ocoee for a specific length of time before becoming eligible to run for office, but it’s unclear where Munns resides.
Munns did not respond to email or a phone call requesting clarification about her residency.
“She lives in Orlando,” Karin Dennis, Munns’ former campaign manager, told VoxPopuli on Friday. Dennis added that Munns owned properties throughout Orange and Seminole Counties and could be residing at any one of them.
But Phil Mitchell, who worked as Munns’ campaign manager after the primaries, testily denied that, telling VoxPopuli in a phone call that Munns lives in Ocoee. He described Dennis’s statement as “opposition research” and threatened VoxPopuli with legal action if Munns was contacted again. He followed up with a text message: “I’d encourage you to leave her alone completely. I won’t ask again.”
Firstner ran for commissioner in 2016 after retiring as Ocoee’s fire chief in 2009 because he missed working with the city. He said this would be his last campaign.
“I would love to serve the public for another four years,” he said, standing with his wife and campaign manager, Doris, in his Wesmere living room. He’d like to see the city projects, like the City Center at Bluford Ave. and Hwy. 50, finished up. But he’s very zen about the outcome.
“The way I look at it is … if the people have been satisfied with my seven years of service, they'll elect me. And if they don't like what I've been doing, they'll elect someone else. That's the way it goes. It's not gonna hurt my feelings at all.”
Election Day: March 14. Check OCFLElections.gov for voting sites.
Early voting: March 6 to 10, 119 Kaley Street, Check OCFLElections.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 OCFLElections.gov to request a vote-by-mail ballot.