Orlando voters elected political newcomer Regina Hill to the City Council on Tuesday, rejecting Juan Lynum, the better-funded candidate and son of the district’s current commissioner.
Hill’s victory is the culmination of an unlikely campaign by a felon who told voters she had turned her life around and would turn around the troubled district, too.
Hill earned 54.5 percent of the vote to Lynum’s 45.5 percent in the runoff election to represent District 5, easily beating the attorney and son of four-term incumbent Commissioner Daisy Lynum.
“I believe, as I had been saying all along, that people were ready for change,” said Hill, 48, who was celebrating with supporters at an Amvets post where she’s a member. “They connected with me because I connected with them.
“In me, they saw themselves or someone they knew. They knew I had compassion in my heart for them and for their causes.”
Lynum was conciliatory in his loss.
“Thank you to my friends, family and supporters for a very spirited 90-day run,” Lynum said. “It was hard-fought, but the people decided that Regina Hill would be their choice to lead District 5 for the next four years … . I wish her the best, as this district needs the best of everything we have to offer.”
Hill, a nurse, earned a reputation as a fiery, grass-roots campaigner. With no previous political experience, she entered the race 15 months ago, canvassing neighborhoods and promising voters she would fight to bring jobs and opportunity to the district with the most poverty in the city.
“I worked really hard,” Hill said. “I knocked on thousands of doors; I had a great team behind me that canvassed with me and phone-banked.”
Lynum, meanwhile, jumped in the race at the last minute, on the final day of qualifying. His mother already had qualified to be on the ballot for a fifth term but withdrew a few days later and threw her support to her son.
Lynum was seen as the establishment candidate. He promised to carry on the legacy shaped by his mother during her four terms in office.
He also had more money to spend. Though his most recent fundraising report was not available, he had raised $32,950 as of April 3. Hill had brought in $12,506 as of May 1, much of it since the general election April 8.
Lynum drew the most votes in the general election, but with a third candidate in the race — Cynthia Harris — no one earned more than 50 percent, and Lynum and Hill moved on to the runoff.
Lynum changed his campaign message after the general election, saying he would fight City Hall on behalf of his constituents. The change prompted Hill to accuse him of co-opting her platform.
Hill said the Lynums were treating the seat like a monarchy, with an office that could be handed down to the next generation.
It was a message that resonated with voters such as Laura Glick.
Glick, who lives in the Rock Lake neighborhood, voted for Hill, saying it’s time for new ideas.
“We’ve had 16 years of the Lynums. I can’t imagine we’d get anything different from Juan,” Glick said. “It’s time for a change.”
Wassie B. Miller voted for Lynum. She said she learned about Lynum’s background from reading his campaign materials and thought he’d be a good commissioner. She didn’t receive any campaign materials from Hill.
“I didn’t know anything about her,” said Miller, who also lives in Rock Lake.
Turnout was especially low at the district’s four polling places, where only 405 people cast ballots on election day. By contrast, more than 1,700 absentee ballots were counted. That’s several hundred more than in the general election, an indication of how heavily both campaigns were courting absentee voters.
In a district where a significant number of residents can’t vote because of felony convictions, Hill’s supporters were forgiving of her troubled past.
She’s been arrested 21 times, including a felony cocaine conviction in 1989, which she has called “youthful indiscretions.” Hill had her civil rights restored and said her past helped her better relate to people living in the district.
“If it was over in Bay Hill or Heathrow, it might matter, but I don’t think it matters to people in District 5,” resident Gary Haskell said. “There’s no one on this Earth who can say they’ve never done something that could get them arrested.”
It’s not the first time Orlando residents have elected someone with a criminal conviction. In 1983, then-District 6 Commissioner Ernest Page was convicted of grand theft in a police sting after buying office equipment he’d been told was stolen. He served eight months in jail and was re-elected to his old seat in 1996 after having his rights restored. Page was removed from office again after being convicted of corruption charges in 2008.
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