A closer look at the 7 candidates for Orlando's District 5

A committed and knowledgeable field of candidates has emerged in Orlando's District 5, all making a case to be the best choice for Interim City Commissioner.

The seven candidates emerged quickly after the downtown and West Orlando area seat opened following the indictment of Commissioner Regina Hill.

County residents can begin voting Monday, with early voting scheduled to continue until May 19. Election day is May 21st. If neither candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to the June 18 runoff.

The winner will take office soon and could remain in office until her term expires at the end of 2025. Or Hill could return to office sooner if the crimes against her are resolved in her favor.

Hill, for her part, addressed the candidates at a forum at Jones High School last week and wished them good luck.

“This is a very important role that one of all of you will take on. There is still a lot to do,” she said. “My only request is that you stabilize the district and do what’s best for the people.”

“Good luck to each and every one of you.”

Here's a look at the candidates and their priorities, with material from candidate forums, interviews with the Orlando Sentinel editorial board, campaign materials and their websites.

Ericka Dunlap

Dunlap was the first African American to be crowned Miss Florida in 2003 and won Miss America in 2004.

She is a UCF graduate, former City Council candidate and mother of an infant daughter, born in 2020 to Dunlap and City Commissioner Bakari Burns.

She also owns a PR company.

Dunlap's priorities include building more affordable housing, investing in neighborhood association priorities and taking another look at costly after-midnight permits that require downtown bars and nightclubs to cover the costs of off-duty police officers.

“It’s important that we have a vibrant nightlife scene in downtown Orlando,” she said in an interview with the Sentinel editorial board.

She supports the expansion of the Parramore Kidz Zone, a youth program started in the neighborhood by Mayor Buddy Dyer, as well as senior programs.

Another priority for Dunlap is providing training and skills development resources for residents.

Tiakeysha Ellison

Ellison is a business mentor and coach who says she helps people qualify for homes and apartments as well as start and run their businesses. She said she would try to offer similar programs in the district if elected.

At a forum hosted by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition last week, Ellison cited the need to address rising rents.

“These affordable apartments are no longer as affordable when they have to prove they make three times the rent,” she said. “I think this is a big concern in District 5 in Orlando.”

She also said she would focus on programs to employ county residents on construction projects near their neighborhoods.

Lawanna Gelzer

Gelzer is a longtime community activist and frequent candidate for office in Orlando and Orange County who focuses on causes related to racial and environmental justice. She is professionally a management consultant.

She calls for greater accountability for police officers found to have used excessive force and says the city should track the issue more closely.

She also wants to conduct a forensic audit of the city's housing programs to ensure subsidized housing units remain affordable and would like to loosen the city's regulations on tiny house construction. Her experience keeping a close eye on the city's business is her advantage, she said.

“You can’t make change if you don’t know what’s going on,” she said.

The Parramore district faces a disproportionate burden in combating homelessness because shelters are located there and the city should look for sites in other districts to build more, Gelzer said.

Gelzer called a recent council decision to provide incentives for a project partially owned by the DeVos family next to the Kia Center “corporate welfare.”

Cameron Hope

Hope runs a tax business and believes more city money should be directed toward economic and commercial development in the county. This will bring more income to residents, he said.

Specifically, Hope said at a forum this week that he would like to see more business and nightlife in Parramore.

“Our residents don’t have enough income to afford living expenses,” Hope said.

He said he would also like to bring more youth programs to the district, including chess leagues at the various neighborhood centers for children.

Hope said the city needs to find more ways to house homeless people without resorting to arresting homeless people.

Travaris McCurdy

McCurdy is a former state representative who previously worked as an aide to Sen. Geraldine Thompson and Hill. He currently works for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and focuses on outreach to small businesses.

He said he could do similar work as a city commissioner to help local businesses bid for lucrative city contracts. He claims his experience as an elected official gives him an edge in City Hall and that he would bring stability to the seat.

“I am someone who is ready, willing and able to give you the representation you deserve,” he said.

McCurdy said he would support policies that help the homeless without criminalizing them, promote the construction of affordable housing and strengthen the city's infrastructure. As a lawmaker, he said he brought home state money to expand the Parramore Kidz Zone.

He is supported by the union that represents Orlando's rank-and-file firefighters and the voting rights and grassroots organization Florida Rising.

Miles Mulrain, Jr.

Mulrain is a community activist who runs a nonprofit organization focused on gun violence prevention, youth mentoring and housing issues.

After the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the shooting of Salaythis Melvin by Orange County officers, he helped organize protests related to racial justice and against police brutality.

He said he would like to divert some of the city's budget from police and fire departments and instead pursue programs that focus on the root causes of crime, such as the city's Community Violence Intervention program, which city officials credit with a decline in firearm homicides and non-fatal shootings.

Mulrain said he would stick to his values ​​in office.

“We need someone who can be trusted behind closed doors when people are offering them deals and trying to influence them… I'm not the same,” he said, “I won't play with them and that's what they do.” I won’t play against myself.”

Shaniqua “Shan” Rose

Rose is a former city employee and currently executive director of the City of Eatonville's Community Redevelopment Agency, which is trying to bring the state African American History Museum to the city.

In Orlando, Rose said she will work to persuade developers to include more affordable housing units in their plans and aggressively pursue the expansion of the city's social services with grants.

“The city could seek trillions of dollars in funding to address our youth problems,” she said.

The city also needs more youth programs for middle school-aged children, she said.

As Orlando faces increasing homelessness, she said city leaders should hold other municipalities accountable for housing them in places other than Parramore, while also considering a site for a long-term mental health facility.

Rose was endorsed by the Laborers' International Union of North America, which represents city workers.

Anna Harden

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