A dull 90-minute candidate forum Thursday turned into an attack fest when the other candidates started confronting Orlando Commissioner Regina Hill on more than just her record.

The five candidates that attended the forum at the Callahan Neighborhood Center were cordial during the first hour, stating their platforms and achievements.

The League of Women Voters of Orange County, which organized the event, took questions from the audience. The rancor began when a question asked what the past administration has done wrong and how the candidates would change that.

Candidate Ericka Dunlap, a former Miss America and public relations executive, took offense at Hill’s comment that none of the other candidates had jobs.

“I do not have a job because I’m a job owner,” said Dunlap, who has made it obvious she’s no friend of Hill’s. “I employ people. I can’t have a job to reach constituents. What has the current commissioner done? Just check her Facebook.”

Dunlap was referring to a Facebook video posted in April that showed Hill slurring her words and talking incoherently. Hill has a history of drug problems. She was elected in 2014 despite 21 arrests between 1983 and 2009 for drug offenses and multiple DUIs.

Following the video release, Hill denied using drugs and said she was grieving the death of her daughter. Vonni DeBose. The 24-year-old died in August 2015 after she was found unconscious in a Tallahassee home, according to police.

Candidate Cynthia Harris took the second shot at Hill also mentioning the Facebook video.

“She (Hill) raised property taxes 17 percent, destroyed Tinker Field, placed eminent domain on a church to build a soccer stadium and I had to fight a shelter three times before they finally snuck it in,” said Harris, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2015. “Just look at her Facebook, she insulted the entire community.”

Carol Davis, president of the League of Women Voters, stepped in to stop the personal attack.

“We’re here to inform you about issues in an orderly, respectful manner,” Davis said “We’re not here to pile on one person.”

Davis said the question was about what the administration, not what Hill has done wrong.

Then Hill got up and listed her achievements.

“When you take office everyone does not agree with you,” said Hill, a former nurse. “I’ve done a lot of great things. Three hundred kids get jobs every summer, there is affordable housing in Parramore after 20 years. There’s economic development and growth, arts and entertainment and we have become a sports hub. Even through my pain and grief, I have continued to work on behalf of the people. Every vote I take is in the best interest of my community.”

Following the tirade, the other candidates got up and said they did in fact have jobs. Jibreel Ali said he has been substitute teaching for three years. Sarah Elbadri, said she was an urban planner and Harris added she runs a nonprofit, the Carson-Chaney House.

Another question from the audience asked if it was right for commissioners to approve a 6.5 percent raise for themselves last March when the hourly wage was rising at less than 3 percent.

Hill said city employees needed a pay increase.

Elbadri said the commission was wrong to approve their own raise but added that city employees deserved the raise.

“It’s about privilege and power and folks in power who have taken advantage,” Elbadri said. “The commission should not be voting on their own wages.”

The other candidates agreed and Dunlap added that the wage was too much for a part-time position.

The District 5 commissioner makes $58,000 a year.

The forum also included other hot topics — transportation, police brutality, economic development and gentrification. But the debate was overshadowed by the rancor.

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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