Sizing Up the Field in the Mayor’s Race

Of frontrunner Bill Segal’s three opponents, [Teresa] Jacobs has the best chance of beating him in a head-to-head contest.

Photo By Scott A. Miller

People who don’t vote (and even some who do) often say that all political candidates are the same, so why bother? But that just isn’t the case in the Orange County mayor’s race, which will be on the ballot in the Aug. 24 primary election.

Here’s my take on the four major candidates and my prediction about the outcome of the nonpartisan race:

Matthew Falconer: He is the only true political outsider of the four, but he may be the most knowledgeable about the workings and costs of county government. The Windermere businessman is against nearly everything that his opponents are for, with SunRail among his chief complaints, in terms of costly government projects. He vows that he’ll rescind the expressway toll increase, seek consolidations of services with other municipalities, end defined pension plans for new county employees, and lower taxes.

Good luck with all that, Matt.

I strongly agree with him on SunRail and defined pensions: The former is a boondoggle that ultimately will force the commuter train system’s regional partners to seek tax increases to sustain it, and the latter is a drain on government budgets. While I don’t think he’ll be a top two vote-getter, I don’t want to underestimate him either. Falconer has campaigned hard and his Tea Party politics set him apart from the pack. Purely for selfish reasons, Falconer is my favorite because he would stir things up, providing loads of columns for me.

Teresa Jacobs: She has the southwest side of Orange County, the area she once represented as a county commissioner, sewn up.

Jacobs enjoys good press in the Orlando Sentinel, and is known for getting right to the point as well as for demanding ethics reforms in county government. Her campaign platform includes the usual spiel of bringing jobs to the area, holding the line on taxes and supporting quality-of-life issues, such as public safety.

Name recognition is Jacobs’ greatest ally in the race, as her success at campaign fundraising has shown, even though she was the last of the four to join the race, entering in late January. Of frontrunner Bill Segal’s three opponents, Jacobs has the best chance of beating him in a head-to-head contest. But she’s also the most likely to feel the effects of Falconer’s presence in the primary if there is a surprisingly heavy voter turnout.

Bill Segal: Just about every major or minor endorsement has gone to him, along with the financial backing of Orlando’s politically involved. The District 5 county commissioner claims that his business background makes him the candidate best qualified to lure new businesses to the area. And he says he’ll protect public-safety spending while prudently managing the county’s recession-wracked budget.

Although Segal is the hands-down choice among Orange County’s movers and shakers, his name doesn’t resonate as strongly beyond the inner circles. Still, he should skate through the primary as the top vote-getter. His recent support of the controversial Mormon Church-backed mega-project in southeast Orange County was risky in this anti-development climate, but it showed that he’s willing to stick his neck out politically.

Linda Stewart: The District 4 county commissioner is the “green” candidate, with environmental concerns and mass-transit initiatives among her principal campaign platforms. Stewart has a solid base of support in her sprawling southeast Orange County district, but it hasn’t amounted to much in contributions. Of the candidates, she and Falconer have posted the most detailed platforms on their campaign websites.

I disagree with Stewart’s support for SunRail and high-speed rail, but she is right-on about Lynx: It needs a dedicated funding source, though her gas-tax proposal likely will cost her votes. If the race were between just her and Segal, Stewart could create some buzz. But Jacobs and Falconer have stolen some of her thunder.

Prediction: Segal takes 35 percent of the vote, with Jacobs a close second and Falconer claiming a respectable 20 percent. Segal and Jacobs advance to the general election.

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