After 14 years on the Orange County Commission, incumbent Ted Edwards should be very worried about marketing executive and UCF graduate Gregory Eisenberg.
By Jacob Engels
If you would have said 5 years ago that the state of the impoverished East Orlando community of Bithlo could be a make or break campaign issue, most would have laughed you out of the room. The low income area, long neglected by the county and elected officials, has been absent a voice for decades.
This has resulted in some of the lowest literacy rates, poorest high school completions, and lax reproductive health education in the Central Florida area and in the state of Florida. However, that all changed with the help of Timothy McKinney and his non-profit, United Global Outreach. McKinney, a successful Winter Park businessman, left corporate America to focus on a community that he believed was being grossly undeserved.
After over five years of focus, McKinney and his organization have improved healthcare access with mobile health centers, provided tutoring and other educational services, fought to have a dangerous section expanded on SR 50, and brought big time players like Florida Hospital to the table in an effort to educate Bithlo residents and improve their quality of life.
Enter Gregory Eisenberg, a UCF graduate who works as a marketing executive for several student housing properties. Eisenberg filed to challenge Orange County Commissioner (District 5) Ted Edwards mid-year in 2015, employing an aggressive approach, focused heavily on digital marketing and community events.
While Eisenberg has received most of his campaign services in-kind or as an act of volunteerism on behalf of avid supporters, his lack of substantial fundraising has not stopped him from grabbing headlines with bold proposals on transportation, education, technology and more. But Eisenberg’s big opening may not be a clever platform, aggressive grassroots effort, or sudden influx of political cash… it could very well be his recent focus on Bithlo.
Eisenberg released a web video about his plans to help the area, weeks after Commissioner Ted Edwards was hammered for his plans for the East Orlando area, pushed through the county commission without so much as a call to Bithlo’s biggest booster – United Global Outreach’s TImothy McKinney.
Mr. McKinney labeled Edwards efforts as confusing and uninformed, pointing to his neglect of the community over the past 14 years. In an op-ed to the Orlando Sentinel, McKinney explained that United Global Outreach had amassed over 90 community partners, and thrives on collaboration with business and community leaders.
Eisenberg also voiced his concerns about Edwards lack of interest and sudden “plan” in a missive posted on his campaign website and reported by the Orlando Political Observer’s Frank Torres.
“United Global Outreach has already proven to be an effective force for change in the area. McKinney, however, has frequently voiced concerns that Edwards is discouragingly uncooperative even with private entities working to improve living conditions for the people of Bithlo.
As testament to this disconnect, Edwards recently announced a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity to provide nine units of affordable housing in an area currently occupied by a trailer park, passing over a plan submitted by Global Outreach to use the same space for more than twice as many (20+) affordable and privately funded homes.
Ted Edwards has reliably ignored the problems of a community that it has long been his duty to protect, and it is abundantly clear that he can’t be trusted to consider the best interests of Bithlo.”
Anna Eskimani, a fellow UCF graduate and chair of the Project Bithlo effort, told the East Orlando Post that the story of Bithlo must be heard.
“The story of Bithlo is one that must be heard; we welcome the efforts of any individual who raises awareness around the issues and solutions that the Bithlo community faces.”
With the displeasure of McKinney and other advocates of the Bithlo Transformation Project regarding Edwards recent snub and lack of care could give Eisenberg the jolt he needs to take on an entrenched incumbent.
If Eisenberg is able to harness that energy properly and continue his aggressive digital marketing and grassroots push, he might very well become a problem for the long-term incumbent.
Time will tell, but Eisenberg presents the strongest challenge Edwards has seen in years, and it would be good to have a millennial on the county commission.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org