Orange Democrats Select New Leaders For 2015 On Monday

    OCDEC Chairman Carlos Smith is seeking re-election, facing failed Orlando City Commission candidate Cynthia Harris.


    By Jacob Engels


    As the Florida Democratic Party tries to analyze and understand their election defeats on November 4th – lead by a task force headed by former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings & U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, local Democrats will decide Monday night whether or not to stay the course with their current leadership.


    Current Chairman Carlos Smith will face off against failed Orlando City Commission candidate Cynthia Harris in his bid for a second term. The female member-at-large post will also be contested. Vice Chairman and Secretary positions are an open field with only one candidate in the race.


    Orlando Politics, ran by Republican strategist and media personality Frank Torres reported that Smith posted the below message about his re-election bid early Sunday evening.


    “As many of you know, I am seeking re-election as Chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party for the 2015-2016 cycle. My first year as party leader wasn’t easy, but I am committed to doing the necessary work to lead us forward. That includes repeating what we did well in terms of historic fundraising achievement under my leadership AND finding a way to do better in our areas of opportunity. 2015 must be the year where we expand our efforts to reach out to various communities and engage voters on key issues affecting the residents of Central Florida.


    We need someone with a track record of commitment to the local Democratic Party, experience managing successful teams, the ability to engage local media and the temperament lead our organization with a steady hand.


    I’ve been that party leader, it’s been my privilege to serve, and I hope to earn the support from our members for another 2 years at tomorrow night’s officer elections. Thank you Orange County Democrats!”


    Orange County Soil & Water Commissioner Eric Rollings had this to say about Smith’s re-election campaign when we reached out to him Sunday night.


    “I’m glad that Carlos Smith has decided to run for re-election for Chairperson of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee. Carlos has an amazing amount of energy and has proven to be a talented fundraiser.”


    While Smith faced a tough loss in the House District 49 race where incumbent Democrat Joe Saunders was defeated by just over 700 votes – the blame for the outcome of the statewide Gubernatorial & Attorney General races have largely fallen on the plate of the Florida Democratic Party. In other races, Orange County Democrats guided by Smith re-elected Congressman Alan Grayson to another term and defeated a widely popular Republican Eddie Fernandez in the Clerk of Courts race.


    “Chair Carlos Smith has a proven record of commitment to our local party. Even in this tough election year, he has demonstrated that Democrats maintain the potential and the willpower to overcome big-money special interests. Expanding community engagement and organizing to address the issues our communities face will be the centerpiece of our 2015 strategy, and no one has a better reputation for doing this than Carlos. With the renewed leadership of Carlos Smith, the Democratic Party will continue to be the voice of justice and equality in Orange County,” said Orange County Democratic Party Communications Chairman Ali Kurnaz.


    From a fundraising standpoint, Mr. Smith helped Orange County Democrats out-raise their Republican counterparts during his first term – netting over $200,000 in contributions. His opponent, Cynthia Harris has a different take on Smith’s tenure.


    In a message shared from her account on Facebook shortly after Smith posted his – Harris lays out her reasons for running.


    “For those who I have not personally spoken with my name is Cynthia Harris and I am running for DEC Chair. A large part of why I’m running is because I for one am tired with the lack of vision, leadership and plague of dirty politics that have hindered our collective progress. As an community advocate, I’ve come to realize that those who are not engaged in the political process are treated as afterthoughts. In some cases the so-called divide between the so-called organizational cliques is one that needs to be addressed and remedied as we need to be one DEC, united in our differences promoting it as a strength rather than a weakness. Our political culture needs to change,” posted Harris on the County Watch Facebook group.


    She continued to explain her discontent with current party leaders & infrastructure, claiming that those who oppose Democratic leaders face underground taunts and even violence. Harris ended her salvo by quoting Sweet Brown…yes the “Aint nobody got time for dat,” lady. Is she running for Chair of a local political party or trying to impress Randy Quaid with her ability to lather up talk of conspiracy?


    Unless Harris can provide concrete evidence of violence or harassment perpetrated against fellow Orange County Democrats at the hands of Smith or his allies, her campaign will likely be nothing more than a sideshow. Does anyone really believe her claims anyways?


    Former candidate for Orange County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Sean Ashby believes that Smith deserves a second term. Ashby dropped out of the race and cleared the path for Smith’s first candidacy after former Chairman Scott Randolph resigned his post to become Orange County Tax Collector.


    “I’m proud to rally behind Carlos as we look forward to 2016. He has what it takes to continue to turn Orange County BLUE.”


    Former school board candidate and executive committee member Regina Hellinger is also supporting Smith. Hellinger believes that Smith is a diplomatic leader who connects with the members at large.


    “From the day I met him, Carlos has been a tireless and energetic force supporting Democratic values and Democratic candidates. His personal commitment and dedication has helped raise significant funds for our party and has energized the involvement and interest level of members at large. As a candidate in the last election cycle, I knew that I had the constant watch and support of our local DEC because of Carlos’s communication and support. I have seen him listen to various points of view on controversial topics and handle them diplomatically. Carlos has just begun as a leader in our party, the thought of how he will better our party over the years to come really excites me and makes me so grateful that he is willing to serve as our President for another two years.”


    News 13 political analyst and former Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremiah Japson thinks Smith will most likely cruise to re-election. “Carlos did very well fundraising. He will be tough for her to beat in my opinion,” said Japson.


    In the race for the female member-at-large position, Michelle Stile & Tiffany Namey will compete. Stile, who consulted for several Democratic candidates this cycle is expected to win. Andrew Bell, who serves as a top aide to Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, said he will be supporting Stile.



    Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at