By Rachel Christian
It was hard to tell apart candidates and residents Tuesday evening during an open forum at Broadway Pizza in downtown Kissimmee.
Sporting a tidy baseball cap and blue jeans, City Commission seat 4 city commission
incumbent Jim Fisher sat less than a hand shake’s length away from constituents in the minutes before the event began.
He was joined by political newcomer and business owner Felix Ortiz, who is one of five candidates vying for a different seat on the same board. Ortiz wore a similarly low-key pair of jeans and polo shirt to the forum.
Audience members who had chatted with the men about stifling Florida summers and Fourth of July rainouts raised hands to ask pointed policy questions once the event began.
The informal setting wasn’t an oversight. According to event organizer Marcos Marrero, the concept is to make candidates more accessible to voters as the November midterms near.
“People deserve the chance to get to meet, speak with and ask questions about the people they vote for,” Marrero said. “We wanted to create a time for that process, so people can know who is representing them at a local level.”
Marrero is president of the Osceola County Libertarian Party, which hosted similar public forums in 2016 and has another planned for
As City Commission races are non-partisan, Marrero opined that the events are less about party affiliation and more about the candidates themselves. He said the goal is to bridge the gap between politics and every day life.
“We think it’s important to encourage this kind of dialogue, to put a face to the name on the ballot,” he said. “These are real people seeking office.”
Unlike “Hob Nobs” taking place later this month, candidate forums like this and the one hosted by the Osceola County Council on Aging are free to the public.
The Council on Aging forum is set for July 23 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at 700 Generation Point in Kissimmee.
This event is an election tradition at the center. It gives older citizens a chance to learn more about the people who wish to represent them, said Council Chief Operations Officer Carmen Carrasquillo.
“Seniors go out and vote,” she said. “Candidates know older residents make up a huge part of the voting block, and senior citizens want to know how elected officials will vote on issues they care about.”
Regular Council on Aging attendees will make up a bulk of the audience, but Carrasquillo said anyone interested in watching the free discussion can RSVP the Council ahead of time.
Two other political meet and greets are also on the horizon this month.
On Thursday, the Osceola County/Kissimmee Chamber of Commerce will host its annual Hob Nob from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Osceola Heritage Park. A Hob Nob denotes a social gathering — especially with those from a higher class — and the term is applied to many similar networking shindigs scheduled across Central Florida this month.
General admission to Osceola County’s Hob Nob is $25 a person, and entry gives residents a chance to speak one-on-one with business owners and local candidates running for office.
Incumbent County Commissioners Viviana Janer and Cheryl Grieb will run booths alongside political hopefuls like Daniel Villazon and Adam Michelin.
A similar social for St. Cloud candidates called Politics in the Barn will be held the following week at 5:30 p.m. July 26, at the St. Cloud Community Center. Tickets are $15.
Election information and current candidates
The primary is Aug. 28 and the last day to register to vote is July 30. The General Election is Nov. 6, with the final registration day set for Oct. 9.
Here are the qualifying Osceola County candidates. (I) indicates the incumbent:
County Commission district 2: Democrats Rolando Banasco, Viviana Janer (I) and Janette Martinez, and Republican Wanda Rentas.
County Commission district 4: Democrats Will Fonseca, Will Gonzalez Jr. and Cheryl Grieb (I), and Republican Adam Michelin.
School Board district 1: Teresa Castillo, Shel Hart.
School Board district 4: Clarence Thacker (I) School Board District 5: Ricky Booth (I).
Osceola County Judge Group 1: Christine Arendas, Ernest Mullins, Daniel Villazon.
Osceola County Judge Group 2: Gabrielle Saunders.
Osceola County Judge Group 4: Hal Epperson Jr.
Kissimmee City Commission seat 2: Reginald Hardee, Horng “Andrew” Jeng, Steven Mullis, Felix Ortiz.
Kissimmee City Commission seat 4: Jim Fisher (I), Lisandra Roman
St. Cloud Council Member seat 4: Dave Askew (I), Anthony Busby.
St. Cloud Council Member seat 5: Donald Shroyer (I), Keith Trace.