Politics have always been of interest to incumbent District 5 commissioner Ted Edwards, particularly of the local variety. An attorney for decades in the area, he took a liking to local government because he can see the impact his work has on his family, friends, and the surrounding community.
“I reached a point in my career where I wanted to give back to the community,” he said of his initial reason for running for office. “I always had politics in my blood. Some people like sports or other interests, but this was mine.”
The race for County Commission District 5 has been a contentious one, as Edwards himself acknowledges. There were initially three challengers, but that number has dwindled down to just one — environmental activist Emily Bonilla — after the Aug. 30 primary.
The race has mainly been contentious and divided over a single issue: the two Lake Pickett projects, Grow and Sustany, which promise to bring thousands of new homes to the area east of the Econlockhatchee River. Edwards is all for them, but the activist-minded businesswoman Bonilla started her campaign by positioning herself directly in opposition to those projects.
Edwards, in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com, doubled down on his support for the projects: “I understand that any time you develop open land, people hate to see it go. There’s been a lot of opposition, but it has misstated a lot of facts about these projects.”
In the past, Edwards has defended the projects as ones that will protect the environment the best they can, and which are coming to an area that already largely has been developed.
He says the projects will be “community oriented” and said the issue in the primary had come down to “if you don’t want Lake Pickett, vote against Ted.” He characterized Bonilla as only focused on that one issue, while he claimed to be focused on many more in addition to it.
He said the issue of the Lake Pickett projects which hounded him throughout the primary were mostly the results of peoples’ “worst-case scenario” thinking. He likened it to the issue of the Wedgefield K-8 school, which had many opponents at first over residents thinking it would “ruin the rural way of life” in the area, and wouldn’t fit in or be compatible with the community.
“But that has not occurred,” he said. “I think until the [Lake Pickett] projects come in, and people can see it and feel it that their worst-case scenario is not going to occur — that’s when we will win over the opposition to the projects.”
Other issues he’s focusing on include transportation and infrastructure, and he cited a recent frustration with the Florida Department of Transportation not helping to add a new toll extension to State Road 408. He said they were currently exploring an alternative option to get the Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise to help with the same project.
In addition, he wants to help bring clean water to Wedgefield and Bithlo — a long-persisting issue, the solution to which he says is buying the private water system there and upgrading it to current standards. Edwards has faced criticism in the past for largely ignoring the issue, which Wedgefield residents say has persisted for decades. But he’s said he didn’t hear much complaining until recently.
Under Edwards’ plan now, Wedgefield residents would pay Orange County water rates to help pay for the upgrade, but Edwards says it’s actually going to save money overall — the rate the private water company, Pluris Water, is charging is much higher.
As his race with Bonilla continues, Edwards wants to position himself, in spite of the opposition, as the most reliable and efficient choice for the job.
“When it comes to choosing a county commissioner, you’ll never have someone who you agree with on all issues,” he said. “You should find one who’s open and willing to make the tough decisions, not always the popular ones. I have a proven record of doing that.”