Backed by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, Dyer’s aide Lori Harris declared her candidacy for the Orange County Commission Wednesday morning promising to bring a fresh and clear vision to the future of District 4 and the county.
While Dyer and Alvarez endorsed her with strong praise – Dyer called her “the conscience of the city” – Harris insisted her candidacy, vision and mission are her own, assuring that she is her “own woman.” Harris railed against criticism her candidacy received Monday from the current County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, who’s backing her former aide in the race, Susan Makowski, and from candidate Nicolette Springer. Both had spoken of Harris being Dyer’s surrogate, with Thompson accusing the Orlando mayor of attempting a power grab on the county commission.
In introducing herself, Harris spoke of dreaming big, for individuals and for the community, particularly in the Orange County Commission District 4, which covers southeast Orange County.
“I invite us to dream bigger. Let’s create livable neighborhoods throughout the district that have it all: efficient transportation and roadways; beautiful, yet affordable housing for every income level; natural green spaces that Florida is known for; and effectively utilizing resources to engage young people to fully participate in their communities and to build their potentials,” she said.
Harris, 42, had been a homeless teen mother who pulled herself out of poverty, finding her own housing and putting herself through college. She eventually spent 14 years working with Habitat for Humanity, including four years working on disaster relief in Haiti under former President Jimmy Carter. For the past three years she has been Dyer’s senior advisor on homelessness and other social issues.
“It was a journey that taught me that we are all stronger than we could ever imagine, and that a small amount of compassion has the power to change people’s lives,” Harris said.
She derided anyone trying to dismiss her as “a pawn for powerful men.” The reference was particularly to statements from Thompson, who accused Dyer of a power grab into county government with Harris as his hand-picked surrogate.
Springer also referred to Harris, and to Makowski, as political insiders “vying to advance the agendas of other politicians.”
In addition to Makowski and Springer, the Orange County Commission District 4 field has Kevin Ballinger, Gina Perez-Calhoun, and Maribel Gomez Cordero.
“I am a woman here who stands on her own, with her own track record and passion for people,” she said.
Nonetheless, she got full-throated backing of Dyer and Alvarez at her campaign kickoff Wednesday in downtown Orlando.
Dyer credited her with changing the city’s system of care for homelessness, leading to a drop of 23 percent of homeless people, and with coordinated the city’s response to help survivors, families and others affected by the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
“Over those three years I can absolutely tell you that Lori has become one of the most resourceful members of our staff and I often refer to her as ‘conscious of the city,'” Dyer said.