Election Recap 2021
How Winter Parkers Saw the March 9 Election
by Anne Mooney / March 17, 2021
In an effort to make sense of the recent mayoral election, I polled a group of WP Voice readers – chosen because of their frequent activity on the Facebook group and their differing points of view – and asked them the following ten questions. A little over half the readers I approached responded, and to them, I am grateful.
Here are the questions and the substance of the responses. I agreed not to attribute any answer to any particular respondent.
- What single issue do you believe most strongly influenced this election?
All respondents cited future development as the most important issue. Since what the Commission does is primarily land use, a candidate’s vision of what the city should look like and how it should grow is always central. While there seemed to be a clear difference between the two candidates’ approaches to growth and development, the reality is that despite what they say they will do, the Mayor has just one of five votes.
In this race, the question of how the City will develop centered on the Library and the Orange Avenue Overlay. This respondent spoke for the rest when s/he wrote, “I think the OAO properly refined by P&Z and the Commission would not have been as hot an issue except that it came on the heels of the Library-Events Center. I have never seen so many people angry at how that project was handled from the start, people who were in favor of the Library are upset, and I think that dictated the way the last two Commission races went; and even as deep as her roots are in WP, I think that Library sealed Sprinkel’s fate.”
- Was there an issue that was not addressed that you believe should have been?
While about half the respondents said simply, “No,” the other half brought up the issues of ethics and accountability. “What is the score card by which voters can hold you accountable?” wrote one.
- What issue would you ask Phil Anderson to address in his first 100 days?
As you’d expect, this one garnered a variety of topics. Respondents wanted Anderson to bring the Commission together and set strategy for the next two to three years. Demonstrate that he’s going to respect and abide by the Comprehensive Plan. Pursue efforts to acquire the Post Office property, and assess the City Manager’s efforts to assist in this process and, in general, evaluate the City Manager’s service to the City.
Several urged that Commission meetings be reorganized to reduce or eliminate marathon meetings and to create greater opportunity for working people to participate. Nearly everyone wanted Anderson to bring clarity and direction to the Orange Avenue Overlay process. “I have seen lots of good ideas,” wrote one, “but we ought not let that area languish.”
Respondents saw a need to gain firmer control of decisions and approval on the library-events center, and to clarify the relationship between the City and the Library Board of Trustees. One wrote: “The fact that a non-elected, self-perpetuating Board, with only token representation from the City [one Commissioner sits on the Library Board] has so much authority over a major asset of the City is a strange arrangement. Before signing a lease with this entity, the Commission should have taken time to examine that relationship. The Library Board should have members appointed, as do other Boards, by the Mayor and Commissioners, and the City should reserve final authority on any major decisions.”
- Was there a campaign video, flyer, website page or other campaign collateral piece that stood out to you? (Or that you even remember?)
Most said they tossed the collateral material and thought it was a waste of money. Those who took the time to read the mailers tended to remember the negatives. One was disheartened to see a mailer that painted Anderson as “anti-woman,” calling it a “low blow.”
One respondent pointed out that the timing of the Events Center video “preview,” which featured Sarah Sprinkel prominently and had Mayor Steve Leary assuring us the project is on time and on budget, was probably not coincidental. Several respondents remembered (negatively) the “Important Tax Information” letter endorsing Sprinkel that was signed by Ken Bradley and Mike Miller.
There was a definite bias in favor of digital media, with social media and campaign website videos of both Sprinkel and Anderson viewed as more genuinely informative and less cumbersome than the collaterals that came on paper.
- Was there a slogan or catch phrase from either campaign that resonated with you?
Resounding “thud” here – all respondents except one answered No. The sole respondent who recalled a campaign slogan was clearly an Anderson supporter.
- How did you feel about the debates? Did they help you decide which candidate to support? Were there too many or too few, or just right?
The most interesting responses here were the ones that preferred the Sentinel video interviews with the two candidates to any of the debates. They found the Sentinel videos more informative and interesting.
All respondents agreed there should be public forums where the candidates share and contrast their views. The Library debate got high marks, and no one said there were too many opportunities to see the candidates square off in front of an audience. Respondents were united in their belief that the Chamber of Commerce debate would be improved by having a neutral moderator curating the questions.
- In hindsight, how do you think that ‘wild card’ question from the Chamber of Commerce should have been handled?
Respondents were unanimous in their opinion that the question as written should never have been asked. ‘Biased,’ ‘loaded,’ ‘inappropriate’ and ‘disgraceful,’ ‘offensive’ and ‘ham-handed’ were among the adjectives used.
One respondent wrote, “I thought both candidates fielded the question in equally good ways. Sarah shook her head and then went to the substance, which was fine. Phil directly addressed the problem with the question, which was also fine.”
Another respondent, who did not see the debate but who heard about the question, was a bit more pointed: “This moderator apparently prefaced a question submitted by someone with this charge of Sunshine Law violations . . . . If he was put up to it, it is vile, and if this guy did it on his own, either the President or the Chair of the Chamber should have immediately risen and made it clear to all that that statement was out of bounds and had no place at that debate.”
- For an ‘off year,’ a 34 percent turnout is quite high. Of the nearly 8,000 people who voted, however, nearly 3,000 waited until election day rather than voting by mail. Why do you think so many waited?
Most respondents thought people were happy to have an excuse to get out of the house. There was no early voting site in Winter Park, and Winter Park is a pretty traditional town where voters like to go to the polls on election day.
Several respondents expressed the opinion that 34 percent was a poor showing, but when compared with 15 percent for Ocoee, 19 percent for Windermere and 13 percent for Winter Garden, Winter Park is looking pretty good.
- Was there anything about the election that surprised you?
There are some good quotes here – let them speak for themselves.
“Neither candidate stooped to the level of bringing up dead relatives.”
“Phil Anderson won without any negative campaigning.”
“The audacity of the notion of putting residents first at City Hall was exactly what was needed.”
“The Commission should take note that the trend over the last few election cycles demonstrates that the residents want smaller scale, slower growth.”
“Keep your message positive and stick to the issues. Even mud slung by surrogates of the candidate tends to bounce back and sully the candidate her/himself.”
Many thanks to Lisa Coney, Bill Segal, Sandy Womble, Chele Hipp, Jack Miles, Jan Hommel, Doug Bond and Beth Hall, who gave the Voice permission to use their names. Thanks also go to additional respondents who did not wish to be identified. The care and thought that went into all of the responses speaks volumes. It is very clear that these people, our neighbors, are committed to our City and care deeply about our community.
To those named did anyone vote for Sarah?
Of the group I asked, half were for Sarah and half for Phil — at least, that’s what their commentary indicated.
Thank you for Recap and back up explanation s.
Thank you, Anne, for this excellent election re-cap!
Elections are complicated but, in the end, the will of the people prevail.
Thank you, Anne, for your tireless unbiased reporting!!!
This was very interesting. I could have read more opinions from voters.
Thank you, Anne, for this re-cap for for all of your hard work at WP Voice!
Anne, your enlightening analysis will be of great help to those who run future city campaigns. Thank you.
I agree most want our city to be small scale. When you drive in Winter Park what do you see? Blue skies and oak trees. What do you see in Maitland? Tall buildings. It’s imperative that we keep buildings low to keep the charm.
This was an interesting article. Thanks for the effort. I think one of the major misunderstandings of the citizens is how Winter Park has a “weak mayor” form of city governance. The mayor has little more impact than a commission member although they do have a bigger “bully pulpit” if you will. I find it interesting the issue of at large vs. single-member districts was not mentioned in the article since that will likely be a major focus given Mayor Anderson ran on bringing that before the voters and at least 3 of the current commissioners are in favor of bringing the issue to a vote. I also must admit I had no idea how the library board is selected or who is on it. I looked it up here: https://www.wppl.org/trustees. They don’t say on that page how they are selected.
As always, very well done Anne!
I was not part of this survey and if I was I would have said about #7 that politicians are often asked difficult questions during debates and should know how to respond. The question came from an audience member and was phrased exactly as that member sent it in. Since Neither Sarah NOR Phil are on the commission that was in question, they should have answered it appropriately. But Mr. Anderson got very upset and then after the debate was abusive to the female moderator in such a way that someone had to step into protect her. I didn’t like his show of such temper – it made me wonder if he was reacting so strongly because he knew it was true? Regardless, it was inappropriate and for that reason I vote for Sprinkel. I do agree that the library was a mess and turned out not to be what we all thought it would be (I was on the library board when the study was commissioned and it was determined we needed 50K feet, I also convinced people to vote yes and now regret doing that). So that put so much fear into people they went the complete OTHER way and now it will be years before anything good gets developed in this town again.
Joann, You should be comforted to know that most development in WP occurs without ever coming before the P & Z board or the city commission. The idea that it will be “years before anything good” is developed is one that need not trouble you for that reason. Only development that requires a conditional use approval or a variance or other special permission because it seeks to exceed our codes comes before them.
Please publish more conspiracy theories and humorous takes on the local politics. It’s the only thing younger voters will take the time to read.
Do you think that anyone under age 60 who is not female will take the time to read any of the above comments?
Why would they?
If the Voice is going to morph into a publication for civil Winter Park women over 60, why call it the Voice?
Yes, the Voice now has a City Commission, 5 out of 5 Commissioners were supported by the Voice. Rest on your laurels and become an old girl’s club and watch that drop to 3 out of 5 next year, and 1 or 2 of 5 – 2 years from now.
Or keep it a publication everyone wants to read and remain influential.
It’s your blog. You can make it whatever you want. So, good luck with it either way you take it. If people stop reading it though because the comments are boring, you might think about renaming the blog “Winter Park Laryngitis” because having a Voice means speaking up loud and clear and BOLD.
Those sour grapes sure leave a bad taste in your mouth, don’t they?
Typically voters 55 and older cast ballots in off-peak local elections. That’s a nationwide trend. Once we get the numbers in, it will be interesting to see if 2021 challenges this assumption in any way with a stronger turnout of younger voters under 40. Lord knows there’s plenty to be concerned about at the local level for next generations: water quality, future parks and green space, tree canopy preservation, bike and ped safety, solar and energy conservation, sustainability, family-friendly environments and long-range planning for future recreational capacity. Since it’s Winter Park, development choices will always be front and center. Voting for any commission seat, Mayor or otherwise, is equivalent to a critical investment in our city’s stock value. Look around our state: if you weren’t living in Winter Park, where would you want to live? Why vote? There’s your answer.
It’s always great to vote on the basis of conjecture, supposition, and a small, singular incident rather than the issues.
First, to Anne Mooney, congratulations on such excellent reporting – your fairness and objectiveness stand out! We are all better for it.
Now for my opinion – the outcome of the mayoral race was a repudiation of the last 9 years of unbridled growth, 2 tone deaf Mayors along with a handful of Commissioners, an out-of-control library project that imploded due to the reckless deciders, mud slinging campaigns like Sprinkel’s, Chamber and developers who were handed privilege after privilege.
Anderson had every dirty pot from the kitchen sink thrown at him, but he managed to keep his composure and stayed on topic promising to be a better representative of those who live here. His platform had the Midas touch; even Sprinkel knew it because she copied him.
He didn’t have to use props like the #metoo handle to win. He offered a better vision, a more inclusive and civil environment and he easily shifted gears on questions during the debates to provide in-depth knowledge on issues he will face for the next three years.
The Chamber unfortunately has dug themselves into a hole because of an inexperienced President who didn’t look at the long game when she came out swinging against Mr. Anderson. Her inability or unwillingness to be an ambassador between the Chamber and the City has left many questioning the group’s sustainability.
Eckbert has tripled the Chamber staff since the last President, but what markets and services have expanded? Where is the accountability for the half-million tax dollars forked over to them during the pandemic?
Mayor Anderson will be a welcome sight down at city hall. Finally, light at the end of the tunnel.
The 2016 Library Referendum vote only passed by a margin of 216 votes–out of over 10,000 votes cast. Confusion about what was promised the voters persists to this day.
The City Commission has voted in an official song for Winter Park.
This is the first time in the City’s history that Winter Park has had an official song.
The Commission has directed that it be played at the start of all sporting events held on City property and at the start of City Commission meetings following the invocation and pledge.
Said a City Commission spokesperson, “This beautiful song encapsulates all of what Winter Park has become, what it is now, and everything it will be in the future. And it fully supports Mayor-Elect Anderson’s promise of adding to the charm of Winter Park.
Here is the official City of Winter Park song:
Thanks Anne for the re-cap of the election. It’s a New day in Winter Park. I pray the city will be a place where all residents will be treated with respect and their voices heard.
I hope the hour of Commissioner meetings will change so working class residents can attend. Thanks for being “A Voice” for Winter Park.
It looked like the Chamber and Winter Park Voter group tried to reduce the probability that Phil would get elected. It didn’t work. Now those two groups have trust issues with the community at large. An apology might mend things quicker but time will heal the wound. We also see several citizens suffering from Winter Park Voice envy! As a community we have a lot of work to do to recover and should probably work together. Is that possible?