Apopka voters decided Tuesday that it was finally time for a change. After a historic run by 93-year-old Mayor John Land, they chose a new direction in the name of Joe Kilsheimer, 56, who campaigned on the need for younger, more energetic leadership in a city that had fallen short of its potential.
Kilsheimer, a former city commissioner, captured 54 percent of the vote to Land’s 46 percent in the most expensive election in Apopka’s history. The mayor spent nearly $100,000 to Kilsheimer’s $40,000.
Kilsheimer’s decisive victory almost certainly ends the political career of Florida’s longest-serving mayor, who also is considered to be the nation’s oldest.
Land has served as chief executive of Orange County’s second-largest city for all but three years since 1949, but he faced a tough opponent who ran an aggressive campaign, relentlessly canvassing voters door to door and pounding home the message that Apopka needed a new direction.
In admitting defeat, Land told supporters at Highland Manor, “I love Apopka still, but I have a broken heart.”
The mayor said he was “too old to cry” but hurt too much to laugh.
He then flashed back to his days as a soldier serving under Gen. George Patton during World War II.
“I think about old General Patton — I served in his Army,” Land said. “He had a saying: ‘I wouldn’t give two hoots in hell for someone who lost and laughed about it.’ That’s how I feel.”
Kilsheimer, who was celebrating with supporters at Errol Estate Golf & Country Club near his home, said the election was historic for Apopka and its citizens.
“For the first time in our city’s history, both the old and new residents of Apopka are looking to have a say in how our city is run,” Kilsheimer said.
He said the results did not surprise him.
“We were always confident about our prospects for winning. We knew what people in Apopka were telling us. They were looking for a new direction,” he said.
Kilsheimer, who received a congratulatory text from Richard Anderson, the city’s chief administrative officer, called on his supporters to thank the mayor for his years of service and leadership.
Anderson’s text: “Congratulations. Best wishes. I’m sure you’re happy this is over.”
Land, surrounded by his wife, Betty, and his children, thanked his supporters.
“All the young people here … who worked on the campaign here, it’s been an honor to serve,” he said. “I appreciate that.”
Some in the crowd burst into tears while someone shouted, “Come back in four years!”