A new candidate entering an Orange County Commission race with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s backing is drawing fire from incumbent Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, who’s accusing the city mayor of playing hardball seeking to stack the county commission.
Lori Harris, a member of Dyer’s inner staff working on homelessness and social services policies, has filed to run for the Orange County Commission’s District 4 seat. Dyer is set to join her at a press conference Wednesday, announcing her candidacy and kicking off her campaign.
In a Facebook video she posted Monday and an interview later, Thompson accused Dyer of trying to gain control of the county commission by backing hand-picked candidates, because, she said, he’s frustrated that the county commission hasn’t been willing to let him spend more tourist tax dollars. She charged that he’s pressuring downtown leaders to back Harris.
“It’s a heck of a lot easier if you’ve got your cronies sitting on the Orange County Commission to raise taxes countywide,” Thompson alleged.
“What this is is a power grab by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the downtown establishment,” Thompson said.
Thompson has her own favorite in the District 4 race: her former aide, Susan Makowski is running.
Until now, Makowski and Nicolette Springer have been the leading candidates both raising money and gaining key endorsements in a race that also includes Kevin Ballinger, Gina Perez-Calhoun, and Maribel Gomez Cordero. The contest is officially non-partisan, though Makowski is a Republican and Springer a Democrat.
Dyer was not available late Monday to respond, and Harris declined comment, though her campaign manager responded.
“We are excited about this upcoming race, and we’ll be focusing our energy on running a good campaign and spreading Lori’s message of a more prosperous community for the residents of District 4,” said Tasi Hogan.
A press advisory on Wednesday’s campaign kickoff said that Harris was once a homeless teen mother who worked third shifts to pull herself out of poverty and put herself through college. During her tenure with the city of Orlando, she successfully met Dyer’s goal to help arrange housing for 300 chronically homeless individuals, and mapped out the city’s long-term support plan for the survivors and victims’ families of the 2016 Pulse tragedy, according to the advisory.
District 4 covers southeast Orange County. Thompson has represented it for two terms.
“This cuts me to my core, that people in downtown Orlando think their money and influence are going to make a bit of difference in this race,” Thompson said.
Springer called both Harris and Makowski political insiders, “vying to advance the agendas of other politicians. Both Jennifer Thompson and Buddy Dyer are trying to stretch their influence over the commission. Today while my opponents were arguing over which of their bosses could yield the most power, I was doing what I’ve been doing for the last year of my campaign, knocking on doors and listening to resident’s concerns and needs. It appears to me all the special interests have a candidate in this race. I cannot be bought. I don’t represent special interests. My neighbors in District 4 are my only priority and will remain my only priority.”