With just two months to go, campaigns for two city seats heat up
At least two candidate events are scheduled for the coming week
Jan. 19, 2024
By Beth Kassab
With less than two months until Election Day, candidates are shifting into an intensified ground game for votes with multiple forums on the calendar, social media pushes and a dose of partisan politics that prompted one sitting commissioner to back out of an upcoming event for one candidate.
Kris Cruzada, who was elected in 2022 to Seat 3 with nearly 52% of the vote, said Friday he would no longer attend a lunch scheduled for Tuesday hosted by the Winter Park Republican Women Federated that will feature Stockton Reeves, a candidate for Seat 2.City elections are non-partisan — no party affiliation appears on the ballot next to candidate names. But it’s not uncommon for partisan groups to endorse candidates and to provide financial support.
Winter Parkers will go to the polls on March 19, the same day as Florida’s Republican presidential primary. That means the 38% of the city’s nearly 22,000 voters who are registered as Republicans will also find the presidential candidates on their ballots. Democrats account for 36% of city voters and those without a party affiliation make up another 24%, according to the most recent counts from the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.
An invitation from the Republican group said Cruzada would speak after Reeves talks about “some very direct and enlightening information on what is actually going on in City Hall.”
“You will be surprised to hear how the left is turning our gem of a city into a liberal bastion of taxing and spending with a woke agenda,” read the invitation from Hattie Bryant, president of Winter Park Republican Women.
Cruzada, the only elected Republican who serves on the commission, said he disagreed with that characterization.
“I disagree because we have a balanced budget,” Cruzada said. “We have to keep up with the rate of inflation and we’ve also increased our tax rolls because of the increase in appraised property values. Like everybody else, we are trying to keep employees and run a city with limited resources when everything is going up in price.”
Bryant confirmed Cruzada would instead appear at a future meeting and said Reeves, who also ran as a Republican for a State House seat, would have about five minutes to speak.
Reeves, who recently loaned $50,000 to his own campaign, according to reports filed on Friday, said his message that day would be the same as it is to any other group and emphasized his focus on public safety and other issues such as historic preservation and the budget.
“I am not asking any political party for help or support though I have people from both major parties, independents and non-party affiliates helping me and supporting me financially,” he told the Voice.
Jason Johnson, an attorney who has so far raised more than $26,000, and Craig Russell, a teacher and coach at Winter Park High who has raised $4,600, are expected to appear at the forum for Seat 2 candidates on Monday evening at the Winter Park Library. Reeves said he is trying to work out a scheduling conflict so that he can also attend.
Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio is running for mayor against real estate school owner Michael Cameron. DeCiccio has raised nearly $22,000 so far, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.
Cameron, who reported $1,500 in contributions, has run a relatively quiet campaign so far, but in recent days he created a profile dedicated to the campaign on Facebook and TikTok. His posts include his apparent support of the Republican Party and Gov. Ron DeSantis based on the hashtags he included such as #redwave, #conservative and the governor’s name.
“I had so many great conversations today and sometimes I just got the door slammed directly in my face and that’s OK,” he said in a video about his collection of signatures to get on the ballot. “There are residents of Winter Park who don’t have a voice and I want to try to be that voice.”
The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce will host a forum for all five candidates on Feb. 7.
NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect more context surrounding the quote from the invitation from Winter Park Republican Women.