National political parties, both Democrats and Republicans, have inserted themselves into Winter Park’s local race this year, and it’s to no one’s advantage . . . unless of course you are the candidate who is affiliated with the national political party that is paying for mailers and other advertising on your behalf.
The Winter Park City Charter is not ambiguous on this subject:
Sec. 3.01. – Nonpartisan elections
“All qualifications and elections for the office of city commissioner or mayor shall be conducted on a nonpartisan basis without regard for or designation of political party affiliation. “
Sec. 1.05. – Oath of Office
As a sitting Commissioner, at least one candidate has sworn an oath to “support, uphold and obey the laws of the City of Winter Park, the State of Florida and the United States of America.”
The Winter Park Charter’s non-partisan ordinance has, to some degree, helped keep the discussion in Winter Park elections focused on the issues. While it does not entirely prevent name-calling – there is always some of that, as Winter Park is nothing if not passionate about her politics – it has managed to keep it down to a dull roar.
Political Parties Court Mayor Candidates
In the mayoral race, Cynthia Mackinnon confirmed that at her January 7, 2015, kickoff party, volunteers from the Orange County Democratic Party offered to help her campaign. Mackinnon declined their offer, pointing out that local Winter Park elections are nonpartisan. Mackinnon said that online advertising was removed from the Democrats’ website, and no volunteers from the Democratic Party organization worked on her campaign. If you search the website, http://orangefldemocrats.com/category/candidates/ winter-park-city/, and click on “Winter Park Mayors,” a blank screen appears.
Contrast that with the flyer from the Orange County Republican Executive Committee (OCREC) endorsing Steve Leary’s bid for mayor.
Or with this political advertisement appearing on the front page of the Winter Park Republican Women, Federated.http://wprwf.com/
Brewer Declines Help
In the race for Commission Seat #1, Gary Brewer said that the Central Florida Young Republicans, of which he has been a member for years, offered similar help in the form of volunteers to walk Winter Park neighborhoods for him. Brewer also declined, explaining that Winter Park local elections are nonpartisan. Brewer has chosen not to accept assistance from Central Florida Young Republicans or any other partisan organization.
Seidel: Registered Independent
Greg Seidel is a registered Independent. He told the Voice that no one from either party had approached him with an offer of assistance.
To what extent is this nonpartisan ordinance enforceable?
According to Winter Park Director of Communications Clarissa Howard, City authority with respect to the ordinance is limited to “candidate qualification and the mechanics of the election.” Howard explained that no candidate can be identified as Republican or Democrat on the ballot or in the literature approved, paid for and distributed by the candidates’ campaigns. That much is clear.
Orange County Legal Opinion on Partisan Conduct
Answers regarding the candidates’ conduct during a campaign, however, tend to be opaque. The Voice was referred to the Orange County Division of Elections for answers to the question about partisanship. The County provided an advisoryopinion prepared in 2003 for then-mayoral candidate Buddy Dyer, signed by Edward Kast, Director, Division of Elections. To see the entire document, click the blue symbol to the right.
Dyer’s first questionwas, “Can political advertising for or on behalf of a candidate for a nonpartisan mayoral office refer to the political party affiliation of the candidate?”
Candidates Can’t Advertise Party Affiliation
Kast wrote, “. . .as a candidate for a nonpartisan municipal office you are prohibited from campaigning based upon party affiliation. . . .as a nonpartisan municipal candidate, you may not publicly represent or advertise yourself as a member of any political party. Thus, information stating your political affiliation may not appear in your political advertising. . . . Political advertisements done by othersin consultation with you would have to meet the same requirements.” (Emphasis added.)
But Party Contributions Are Okay
Dyer’s letter continues, “A political party may make a contribution to a candidate for a nonpartisan mayoral office and a candidate for a nonpartisan mayoral office may accept a contribution from a political party.” Further, “a political party may make an independent expenditure regarding a candidate for a nonpartisan mayoral office.”
Leary: “No Consultation with OCREC”
Steve Leary told the Voice that he had had “no consultation” with OCREC. Asked how he felt about OCREC’s involvement, Leary replied, “I would prefer a non-partisan race, but there it is, and I’m glad to have their endorsement.”
Leary himself may not have consulted with OCREC, but records show his campaign has paid out more than $11,000 to Orlando-based Millennium Consulting, run by John Dowless, which also does work for OCREC and for Republican candidates for local, state and national office.
Asked if he had requested OCREC to cease their involvement in his campaign, Leary replied that he had not.
Loopholes Pave the Way
So, are there loopholes? Yes, there are – big enough for you to ride your Harley through them.
When a candidate decides to ride through the loophole, does it violate the spirit and intent of our City Charter that Winter Park voters make their choices based on the issues rather than on party affiliation of the candidates?
What obligation does a candidate have to respect the spirit of the City Charter and request that national political parties not get involved in a nonpartisan local election?
The evidence is pretty clear that both the Republicans and the Democrats will respect the wishes of the candidates if the candidates make their wishes known.
Special Election 2015 Section in The Voice
Campaign Treasurer’s Reports can be found on the City of Winter Park website at http://cityofwinterpark.org/government/city-info/election-info/financial-reports/.
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