Recent years of rancorous debate and narrowly split votes seemed like ancient history Monday night after newly elected Mayor Steve Leary and Commissioner Greg Seidel took their oaths of office.
The five commission members discussed each agenda item in the mostly routine meeting with congenial deference to each other. They laughed often. They agreed more than they disagreed. As they felt out their group's new dynamics, commissioners seemed determined to start off on a positive note.
By evening's end, for example, they all agreed that any improvements in the city's street lights should take into account the city's overall appearance as well as the cost.
There were few hints, however, of how the group might vote on more contentious issues. Indeed, perhaps the most pointed political message of the night came from Father Richard Walsh of St. Margaret Mary Church, who gave the invocation. He exhorted commissioners to have the "courage to not be controlled by special interest groups," and to limit any bias to concern "for struggling people in our midst."
In a speech after being sworn in, Leary thanked former mayor Ken Bradley, who the new mayor said could not attend that night. Thanks to him, Leary said, "the city is in much better shape than it was six years ago." He pledged to work to make sure the city maintains its uniqueness as it grows, while he reiterated his campaign goal to make Winter Park more of a regional player in Central Florida. "We do not live on an island. We cannot do this alone."
In his brief comments, Seidel, the former chairman of the city's utility advisory board, acknowledged his freshman status on the commission. "I'm the new person up here and I'm looking forward to it."
Seidel, who spoke little during the evening's discussions, said before the meeting he wanted to ease into his new job. His campaign, which targeted the three main issues of transportation, "smart" economic development and accelerated underground wiring, apparently resonated with voters. Even though the mayoral race drew most of the attention as well as campaign contributions of about a quarter of a million dollars, Seidel received the highest number of votes cast. He drew 3,629 voters (over opponent Gary Brewer's 2,836); by contrast, Leary received 3,512 votes (over Cynthia Mackinnon's 3,210).
Before the ceremonies started, Leary acknowledged the limitations of being the city's mayor. Asked what goal he wanted to accomplish first, he noted that "there's nothing I can do as one commissioner anyway."
As Winter Park's representative at ceremonies, document signings and communications with other governing bodies, the mayor is perhaps the best known commission member. But Winter Park's governing document – its charter – spells out that the mayor is "a voting member of the commission" whose powers are mostly limited to presiding over meetings and makes appointments to city boards with the full commission's approval.
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