Orlando Commissioner Jim Gray accused his opponent Friday of “race baiting” and lying in a mailer about the city’s controversial move of its Confederate statue.

The City of Orlando moved the Johnny Reb statue after resident David Porter complained it was a symbol of hatred and white supremacy. Mayor Buddy Dyer made the decision in May to move the statue from its Lake Eola Park location to Greenwood Cemetery. City commissioners discussed the issue but did not vote on the move.

During the Sept. 28 Lake Nona candidate forum, the District 1 candidates were asked if they supported Dyer’s decision to move the statue.

A recent mailer quoting Gray’s statement from the forum said he opposed the statue’s move and quoted him as saying, “It wasn’t to me about slavery as much it was Northern aggression to take our farmland.”

Gray charges that his quote was taken out of context.

Here’s what Gray said, according to a YouTube video posted by Keen’s campaign team:

“There was a lot of people that said, ‘Look this statue is offensive to me and I don’t like what it represents’ and I understood that and I don’t question that. But there was also a group of folks that said, ‘Look, this statue means a lot to my heritage and it wasn’t to me about slavery as much as it was the North aggression to take our farmland.’”

In a press release issued by Gray’s campaign Friday, the commissioner said he was running a positive campaign about the future of District 1 and the City of Orlando.

“But I feel like I must respond to this lie that one of my opponents is spreading,” Gray said in the statement. “The fact that Tom Keen would bring race-baiting into this local race is despicable, and what makes it worse is that he is doing it with a lie.”

Keen said Friday he did not take anything out of context. He said the mailer was paid for and sent by Orange County Democrats.

Keen said during the debate that he was “encouraged by the mayor’s courage to get it (the statue) moved without City Council approval.”

“Orlando voters have a clear choice between forward-thinking leadership and remaining in the past,” Keen said in a statement released by his campaign. “The statue was erected during the Jim Crow Era, not the Civil War. It is of a time of suppression, of keeping people down when they tried to stand up. It does not stand for heritage, but for a shameful past.”

Also Friday, campaign finance reports were posted by both candidates.

Gray has collected more than double the campaign contributions as Keen. The commissioner reported he has $52,150 in his campaign kitty and has spent $20,614, while Keen has $25,000 in contributions and spent $20,119.

The third candidate in the race, Sunshine Grund, is not collecting campaign contributions and has filed no reports.


About The Author

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

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