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OAKLAND VOTES FOR CHANGE

Updated: Mar 21

Shane Taylor is first "elected" mayor in decades. George Oliver III regains Ocoee D4 seat. Winter Garden D2 race goes to April run-off.


Oakland's Mayor-Elect Shane Taylor. Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli


Updated March 20, 2024


Shane Taylor, who mounted a grassroots campaign for Oakland mayor, characterized by openness, accessibility and transparency — funded entirely by individual donors — Tuesday pulled off a massive win with 64.5 percent of the vote to become the town's first duly elected mayor in at least two decades.


"The residents spoke yesterday, and it was overwhelming," Mayor-Elect Taylor said in a phone interview Wednesday. "It was overwhelming. They wanted a change and that change, I'm going to give it to them. This town, it's a new town. It's a new day for the town. And I'm going to work hard to make what I promised and my priorities and commitments to them."


Taylor said, day one after the election, he's already met with the town manager at Town Hall. "I started, saying, Hey, let's get to work. What do we got to do here? So, I'm on it," he said.


Another top priority is to tap into the new enthusiasm the election sparked among residents for getting involved in town affairs. He's said heard from people newly eager to serve on commission boards and advisory committees. And he wants to hear from more.


"You know, the first 100 days, I want to hear from the people. I want to get the word out there. I want to hear back from them to say, I'd like to do this or I would like to see this or I think we should not do this. I want to hear that. Maybe it's as simple as a survey to everybody. You know the town's changed a lot in 10 years. So it's time to do that."


Taylor bested Commissioner Sal Ramos, who served on the commission for nine years before vacating Seat 3 to run. Now, it is unclear what's next for Ramos. The seat is still vacant, and the commission will need to appoint someone to fill it. But after the contentious election — which pit neighbor against neighbor, shattered longtime friendships and splintered a popular Facebook group, creating an offshoot that's growing daily — residents are clamoring for change, and there are others who want the opportunity to fill that seat.


When asked Wednesday about the election and any future plans, Ramos texted, "No comment."


"For decades Sal has been giving back to the community and serving others," said county commissioner candidate Austin Arthur, who campaigned and fundraised with Ramos. "I believe last night's decision will not change that about him, and we will continue to be recipients of his grace and kindness." Arthur added that as he continued his own campaign, he was "ready and motivated to work with all the commissioners and Mayor-Elect Shane Taylor in partnership for the residents of Oakland."


Oakland had a huge voter turnout for this mayoral election, with a total of 1,172 votes cast. During the 2022 election for Seat 1 commissioner, for instance, just 368 votes were cast. This year, the Ramos vote alone — 416 — outstripped that. Taylor garnered 756 votes total.


Most voters — 620 — cast their ballots on Election Day. Another 341 people voted early, and 211 voted by mail, demonstrating the continued attraction of using mail-in ballots, despite state Republicans' ongoing legislative efforts to make it more difficult to do.


Winter Garden D2 and D3 Races

In Winter Garden, Chloe Johnson, who had the backing of Arthur and outgoing District 3 Commissioner Mark Maciel, handily won the District 3 election against neighbor and entrepreneur Karen Mcneil with 68 percent of the vote. A total of 1,010 ballots were cast in the district race — 390 on Election Day, 346 by mail and 274 in early voting.


"God is forever faithful," Johnson texted VoxPopuli Wednesday when asked for comment on her win.


Mcneil did not return a request for comment.


None of the contenders in Winter Garden's three-way race for the District 2 seat — Commissioner Ron Mueller, Iliana R. Jones and Danny "DJ" Culberson — earned 50 percent of the vote. Jones received 48 percent while Mueller earned 41.9 percent and Culberson took 10 percent. That means there will be a run-off election on April 16. Jones and Mueller, as the top vote-getters, will face off again.


In total, 1,225 votes were cast in the District 2 race. Mueller was well ahead before Election Day with 182 early votes and 195 mail-in ballots to Jones' 151 early votes and 190 mail-in ballots. But on Election Day, she swung 110 more votes her way to put her over the top with 588 total votes to Mueller's 514 — a 74-vote difference. Culberson garnered 123 votes.


In a Wednesday email statement sent to VoxPopuli, Mueller said he was "outgunned in every way" during the campaign.


"My modest campaign budget of $2,200 stood in stark contrast with the ridiculous amounts my opponent must have spent. Along with her corporate resources and outsider PAC attacks, she participated in a well-planned smear campaign. To be honest, I was prepared to lose big in the face of all that. But voters saw past it. They judged me on my record and proved our elections can't just be bought.

 

"We won in mail-in voting, early voting, and by even greater percentages in those races than we did in 2021, despite falling short by 74 votes on Election Day. Tuesday's election proved that voters are more interested in results and a positive message. It made me so proud to represent the people of Winter Garden. So even though I've been dragged through the mud with some of the lowest political stunts I've ever witnessed, I'll continue this fight. And I believe that the good people of this community will show up for me again on April 16th."



Chloe Johnson took 68 percent of the vote in District 3 to become Winter Garden's new commissioner. Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli


Ocoee D4 Race

Ocoee's District 4 race was very close. But former Commissioner George Oliver III pulled in 44 more votes than Nate Robertson to reclaim his seat on the dais. Oliver will serve until March 11, 2025, the final year of the term he quit to run unsuccessfully for mayor last year. Ages Hart has been serving as interim commissioner since April, 2023.


This was a hard-fought victory for Oliver. When the Ocoee last year postponed its election until Tuesday, the commission also disqualified Oliver from running. Oliver challenged the decision in Orange County's Ninth District Court and won the right to have his name on the ballot.


Oliver did not respond to a request for comment. But Robertson sent this statement Wednesday:


“Over 700 people put their trust in me with their vote for a better future for all in Ocoee District 4 — they inspire me. The reason I ran was to be a strong new voice for everyone in the district and I am so honored to receive their votes. What last night's results reveal, with only 1460 votes out of 8,000 registered voters, is that we are still dealing with an extreme level of apathy in voters regarding municipal (local) elections. My desire remains to be a servant for our community.”



Charter amendments

Eleven of Ocoee's 13 charter amendments passed with high margins. Voters approved Question 3 — requiring potential candidates to live in Ocoee for 12 months before running for any office — by a whopping 91.4 percent, by far the highest of any charter amendment. This amendment stemmed from revelations in the 2023 election that a candidate running in District 3 lived in Orlando but had rented an apartment in the district in order to qualify to run.


Question 4's candidate background checks was approved by 89 percent of voters. Questions 3 and 4 drew the highest response, with 3,699 and 3,702 votes respectively. Adding the city clerk to the Election Canvassing Board was supported by 73 percent of voters while maintaining commissioners' and mayor's salaries at the levels of part-time jobs was supported by nearly 82 percent of voters. Eighty-seven percent of voters were also enthusiastic about changing old charter language to allow new officials to be sworn-in at the start of the next meeting after the election rather than in the middle of the meeting.


The two amendments that did not pass — Questions 1 and 2 — would have given the city broader powers (54 percent to 46 percent), including the power to trade property (57.6 percent to 42.3 percent). Although, as city attorney Rick Geller explained when he gave a presentation on the amendments in August, the city would have had no more power than cities like Apopka, Windermere and Winter Garden have and no more than what's afforded by Florida Statute and the U.S. Constitution. Check out the rest of the results here.


Lou Forges, chair of the city's Charter Review Commission, which drafted the amendments, told VoxPopuli in a Wednesday email, "All the members of the Charter Review Commission believe that the 11 out of 13 amendments being passed is a victory. Before the election, we received numerous calls and emails from citizens who wanted to discuss or gain a better understanding of the 13 items that were on the ballot. In our opinion, we did an excellent job presenting the 13 amendments, and the final results are a testament to that."


As for the two amendments that did not pass, Forges ventured that perhaps some people found the phrasing "of items 1 & 2 confusing."





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