East Orlando Political Winners In 2013 –
Former Congresswoman Sandy Adams (Republican) –
Although she was defeated by desperate toupee collector John Mica in her bid to serve a second term in the United States House of Representatives, Adams has not faded by any means. She testified before a United States Senate committee about proposed gun legislation, referencing her knowledge gained from nearly 20 years of experience as an Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy. Tea Party and 2nd amendment advocates hailed her testimony and plead for her return to congress, in exchange for Obama cheerleader and pork barrel addict John Mica. Adams also kept a very busy public schedule both in DC and at home in Florida. She has been spotted frequently and republican & conservative leaning meetings and events, and was recently spotted on the floor of the the United States House chatting with Congressman Greg Walden, chairman of the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) fueling speculation that she is not yet done with elected office. Adams like Gardiner, was mentioned as a potential candidate for Orange County Mayor in 2018 by the East Orlando Post.
State Senator Andy Gardiner (Republican) –
Senator Gardiner is an all around likeable guy who represents his constituency in Tallahassee with a servant’s heart, similar to our former State Representative & Congresswoman Sandy Adams. He won his bid to become the incoming Senate President, surviving a coup attempt backed by Jacksonville Senator John Thrasher, who wields immense power throughout the capitol. Gardiner was also mentioned on East Orlando Post’s list of potential Orange County mayoral candidates in 2018, where we noted that he is likely to have seven figures in soft money contributions to dole out from his senate presidency, is liked by the Orlando Sentinel, and has positive relationship with the Disney/Universal/Sea World triumvirate goes a long way.
Sean Ashby (Democrat) –
At first glance, one might think 2013 was a bad year for former state house candidate and local teacher Sean Ashby, who almost bested State Representative Tom Goodson in 2012 (Find him below in the losers list). Ashby, whose relentless quest for answers in the “Textgate” scandal led State Attorney Jeff Ashton and the FDLE to launch an investigation into the scandal which rocked Orange County following a contentious vote on a “sick-time” initiative. The investigation resulted in numerous elected officials being found guilty of destroying public records and facing fines. Ashby then filed to run against “Textgate” criminal and girl-talk aficionado Jennifer Thompson, Orange County Commissioner for District 4. He ran a hard nosed campaign, hitting Thompson on her criminal record and lack of non-corporate accomplishments while serving on the county commission. However, Ashby withdrew from the race after a few months, Stepping aside for Euri Cerrud, a well known hispanic leader. Sources tell East Orlando Post that Ashby’s decision was heavily rooted in wanting to see a hispanic leader serve on the county commission, saying that he strongly felt that diversity was desperately needed on the county commission and more important than his own political ambitions. Recently, in late 2013 he emerged as Orange County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman (also Orange County Tax Collector) Scott Randolph’s pick to succeed him as the leader of Orange County Democrats. Ashby, campaigned hard for the post but ultimately withdrew when certain elements of the local democratic party were more concerned with political posturing than electing a new leader. Ashby, then used what many viewed as his the last of his political influence to endorse and urge his supporters to vote for dark horse candidate Carlos Smith, who surprised local democrats with a strong victory in their mid December elections. Recently, it was revealed that Ashby formed a new PAC titled “Citizens For Informed Elections”, which is rumored to have heavy financial backing in 2014. Hard to find many people without an electoral victory under their belt in East Orlando that will be wielding as much power and influence as Ashby will be in 2014.
Timothy McKinney (Republican) –
A lot can be said about Timothy McKinney, and most of it centers around his efforts in helping the poor and illiterate residents of Bithlo, an impoverished community located minutes from the prim and proper Avalon Park. McKinney who is the Executive Vice President of United Global Outreach, a non-profit which oversees the Orange County Academy and is located in the heart of Bithlo. McKinney has pressured everyone from elected officials to political candidates and bureaucrats to help improve Bithlo’s access to clean water, safe roadways, healthcare, and public transportation. John Mica & Sandy Adams squabbled over who lobbied state officials first to step in and help Bithlo. The UCF College Democrats & UCF College Republicans formed a non-partisan group entitled “Project Bithlo” aimed at helping the impoverished area. The Orange County Young Republicans and even State Representative Joe Saunders have made visits to what McKinney calls the “Transformation Village” which is home to the Orange County Academy, a coffee shop, new library, and more. When not seen at the Orange County Academy, McKinney can be found schmoozing with a who’s who of Orlando at black-tie events and charity balls, always asking for their help in Bithlo. The Barnes & Noble at Waterford Lakes even hosted a book drive to collect books for the new library in “Transformation Village.” The Avalon Park Foundation awarded McKinney’s group with a sizable donation at their recent year end gala. One thing has become clear for powerbrokers, politicians, businesses, and residents of East Orlando; help McKinney and you will benefit from his tireless thanks in news interviews and on his social media accounts. If you drag your feet or fall short of your potential to help Bithlo, you better get ready for some sleepless nights.
Marco Pena (Republican) –
Peña rebounds from losing his state House seat in 2012 to getting appointed in 2013 by the Governor to the 5-member Orange County Expressway Authority where he immediately made his mark by challenging the good old boys network and culture of corruption. Peña, one of the most popular Puerto Rican politicos since State Representative John Quinones, is one of the only Puerto Ricans to be appointed to a major board in Orange County and is one of the top potential candidates for the Orange County Mayor’s race in 2018.
He has remained very active in the community serving on the Board of Directors of the Central Florida Fair, Boy Scouts Hispanic Heritage committee, UCF College of Business Alumni Chapter, and Health Council of East Central Florida.
His background in business and healthcare will serve him well if he does decide to run for higher office in the future. Another plus, in his state house election he earned a diverse assortment of endorsements including Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno, the Florida Chamber, Orlando Chamber’s BusinessForce, and the Orlando Sentinel on the way to becoming the only Republican in Orange County to outperform Mitt Romney by almost ten points, a fact that does not go unnoticed by political observers and candidates. With 2013 in the wind and chock full of accomplishments, 2014 could mean another crack at elected office for Pena.
Carlos Smith (Democrat) –
This year political newcomer Carlos Smith, a 33-year-old UCF grad rose quickly through the ranks of Democratic politics Central Florida. After Orange Tax Collector and now former Orange County Democratic Party Chair Scott Randolph announced he was resigning from his role as party chief, other front runners, candidates or would be candidates came and went. Carlos announced his intention to run late in the game but quickly cleared the field and was elected earlier this month.
What makes him a political winner? Only three short years ago, Carlos was still getting his political career started as a part-time canvasser for Congressman Alan Grayson’s re-election campaign while he was also managing Equality Florida’s local electoral program mostly consisting of volunteer phone banks. The ease at which he was able to quickly and easily take the reigns of Central Florida’s largest and most active local political party and win overwhelming support from an organization already known for internal division amongst its members was worth noting. Not an easy task.
Combine that with his role as the top staffer to State Representative Joe Saunders. Saunders, who turned 30 this year, is already well known as a rising star in the Florida Democratic Party for his fundraising prowess and statewide appeal to Florida’s LGBT community and has seen his own clout rise since he teamed up with Carlos.
“Becoming party chair was not something I expected to happen, especially not this quickly. Over the last several years it took commitment, being willing to take on an endless number of unpaid jobs, and being loyal to those who empowered me to do good work….and there is plenty more to be done in 2014. Like making sure Rick Scott does not get re-elected. That would be good work. Smith explained when reached by the East Orlando Post.
Anna V. Eskamani (Democrat) –
Anna V. Eskamani is no stranger to the political world. As an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida (UCF) Eskamani was first involved with the environmental movement, then with international human rights via the Iranian Student Organization, and finally as a College Democrat, where she served as UCF’s Vice President and as the Women’s Caucus Chair for Florida College Democrats during the 2011-2012 school year. That was her senior year, and Eskamani—along with her twin sister– not only helped bring the College Democrats at UCF to stardom as UCF’s Organization of the Year, but she also graduated with two Bachelor degrees, top honors, and was awarded Order of Pegasus—the highest honor a UCF student can receive upon graduation, showing us and the world that not only is she a politico, but she has the brains to pull it all off too.
2013 has been the been the first full year for Eskamani as a UCF grad, and even though we don’t see her on campus everyday with a clipboard in hand, she’s still managed to have a huge impact on the community. A month before graduation, Eskamani was hired at Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando (PPGO), and today serves as their External Affairs Manager. PPGO sees 27,000 patients annually and educates well over 15,000 young people. It’s a growing organization, and with Eskamani on their team their 2013 fundraiser raised well over $130,000. PPGO has also been playing a key role in identifying the uninsured and helping them get enrolled in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A controversial issue, Eskamani has evolved to become one of the ACA’s biggest local advocates and was invited to The White House’s Youth Summit for it too.
But that’s not all Eskamani does. She sits on the board as several organizations, including the UCF Women’s Studies Advisory Board and the League of Women Voters of Orange County. At 23 years old, she’s the youngest member of each board, breaking the stereotype that young people are apathetic.
We would argue that one of Eskamani’s largest contributions this year has been the launching of Project Bithlo, a non-partisan initiative to bring together UCF students, faculty, and staff and engage them in the transformation efforts happening in Bithlo via the nonprofit United Global Outreach (UGO). Since its establishment in February 2013, Project Bithlo has succeeded in bringing campus-wide and national attention to the community of Bithlo. But most importantly, Eskamani has succeeded in bringing together College Democrats and College Republicans in this effort, helping the two groups identify common goals to do what’s right in Bithlo.
Though much of the work that Eskamani does is non-partisan in nature, we can’t overlook the fact that she’s a registered “D” and sits on the board of the local Democratic Party. With out a doubt, Eskamani is the future of the Florida Democratic Party, and an example of what every Democrat should strive to be, or so I hear.
Pete Clarke (Republican) –
Following his razor tight toppling of Orange County Commission District 3 powerhouse incumbent Lui Damiani, Pete Clarke made it very clear he wanted to connect with the district. Since his election, he has kept a vigorous public schedule, continuously hosting coffee gatherings and community meetings. He has also organized a job and resource fair that provided job seekers with an opportunity to meet with businesses who were actually hiring. The results were positive so this will be an annual event, a source close to the commissioner told the East Orlando Post.
Aside from interacting with the community, Clarke has been very active and involved in improving public safety. In particular, he supported the emergence of an organized effort by the residents of the Conway Acres and Cardinal Park area and helped secure resources to enhance their locales. Commissioner Clarke assisted in organizing a community event at Turnbull Park, bringing hundreds of residents together to discuss similar issues. One resident of the district told the East Orlando Post that Clarke has gone above and beyond working with local law enforcement and code enforcement to improve the quality of life in his district.
Legislatively speaking, Commissioner Clarke asked that the additional Homestead Exemption for seniors be brought forward for discussion and was successful in having it approved by the Commission so eligible homeowners can benefit from it next year.
On two highly charged issues, the first time commissioner showed the tact of a seasoned public servant. During the debate of the major league soccer stadium, which he eventually supported, Clarke worked to secure funds that will support youth soccer in his district and enhance local parks. When the issue of a West Orange relief school popped up, Pete sided supported the residents within the established rural settlement area. Find out more about Clarke’s plans for 2014 here!
Val Demings (Democrat) –
Like Ashby, the former police chief lost her 2012 bid by a small margin, but did not let that change the trajectory of her promising political future. For the majority of 2013, starting after her lost to Republican incumbent Dan Webster, Demings has been heavily courted by national and local democrats, some wanting her to run for congress again and others wanting her to take on Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.
Then, several months ago at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual convention, Demings received a coveted speaking slot while State Senator and the only declared democratic candidate for Governor (at the time) Nan Rich was snubbed. The East Orlando Post saw this as a signal that state leaders and party operatives were behind a Demings vs. Jacobs match up, using the prime time speech to party activists and fundraisers as a way to re-introduce Demings to the party faithful. Then, weeks later Val confirmed that she is seriously considering a run for mayor, and recently she emerged as a potential Lieutenant Governor pick for Democrat Charlie Crist in his quest to reclaim the governors mansion. No movement has been made on that front yet, due in part to Val’s ongoing flirtation with the Orange County Mayoral Race.
Whether or not she runs, and rumblings about her candidacy have resumed, Val Demings is a sure winner this year.
We will be releasing a list of political “losers” in the next week or so, stay tuned.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post. Along with the Post, he owns several other business and is currently enrolled at Valencia College. Jacob has lived in Avalon Park since it’s founding and enjoys playing with his black Labradoodle Jasper, listening to indie rock, and seeking out new business ventures. He can be reached at email@example.com