APOPKA, Fla. – Apopka voters will head back to the polls next month to elect the city’s Seat 2 commissioner in a runoff election between candidates Yesenia Baron and Diane Velazquez.
Apopka is the second-largest city in Orange County.
Four candidates were vying for the position. In order to win the seat, a candidate needed 50% plus 1 of the votes. Velazquez won 42% and Baron won 25%, according to Orange County elections results.
Baron and Velazquez were the top two candidates after Tuesday’s special election. One of them will replace the former city commission who stepped down this year, leaving a year left in the term.
“I want to make sure that I am moving our city forward,” Baron said.
Baron hopes to bring fresh perspective to the position.
Baron is a small business owner and involved in several groups in the city, including as the volunteer coordinator for the Blue Darters Marching Band. She moved to Apopka in 2012 and has “seen it grow from adding a splash pad, a new city center and exciting new businesses,” according to her campaign website.
Baron was born and raised in Miami and is the daughter of Cuban immigrants. She graduated from Florida International University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and earned her master’s degree in organizational management from St. Thomas University.
She started her career with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation as an investigative specialist. She’s a graduate of the police academy and served as a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Baron said she wants to improve the city’s image. She also wants to slow down residential growth and focus on economic development.
“If we can really recruit those economic partners to come to our city and strategically plan it, it would be perfect,” Baron said.
Velazquez hopes to win her seat back.
“I just saw it as an opportunity to return,” Velazquez said.
She served as the Seat 2 commissioner from 2014 to 2018. She moved to Apopka in 2005 after retiring as a detective from the New York Police Department. She is part of several organizations, including the Apopka Woman’s Club. While serving on city council, she supported efforts to rebuild parks, the new splash pad at Kit Land Nelson park, and worked with staff to make the Apopka 9/11 memorial a reality, according to her campaign website.
After losing he re-election campaign in 2018, she was appointed to the Orange County Planning & Zoning Commission representing District 2.
Velazquez said her experience and knowledge about the city’s plans gives her an edge over her opponent.
“I was their commissioner and I know the process. I understand the challenges. I understand their issues and I will go right in and start working for them,” Velazquez said.
A big issue for both candidates is protecting the green space in the Rock Springs Ridge neighborhood from future development.
For Velazquez, it’s a personal issue because she lives in the community.
“As a resident, as a homeowner, it’s important for me that I keep that green space because I bought into and I invested like everyone else did in Rock Springs Ridge,” Velazquez said.
Baron said she sees the green space as potential to create a recreational district on the old golf course.
“That I feel is one of the gateways, if you will, to the amenities that we have to other people in other municipalities that can come to us, as opposed to us going out to them,” Baron said.
Baron said she also wants to focus on connecting South Apopka to the rest of the city.
“I want to bring that live here, work here, play here environment. I know that it’s tangible, I know that it’s possible, but it’s going to take collaborative effort with our communities, as well as our county officials to say, ‘OK, we’re going to make this happen,’” Baron said.
Velazquez said supporting local businesses and residents during the pandemic is important to her. She adds that smart growth is an issue she wants to tackle, if elected.
“I truly feel we need an economic development director to come in and give us some insight,” Velazquez said.
She also said she wants to focus on government transparency to keep the community informed.
“I think we should give more information, but in layman’s terms so they can understand what it costs to run a city,” Velazquez said.
Both candidates are now continuing their campaign efforts to win votes during the runoff election.
“What’s important is to get someone in there and start working from day one,” Velazquez said.
“I want to make sure that I am committing to the future of the city of Apopka together,” Baron said.
The runoff election is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 8.
Click or tap here to read more about Baron’s campaign.
Click or tap here to read more about Velazquez’s campaign.