They’re everywhere—at stoplights, in empty medians of overgrown grass, in your neighbor’s front yard. Clusters of campaign signs have invaded our neighborhoods, the candidates behind the signs promising to make Ocala an even greater place to live, work and play if you give them your vote.
Ocala’s character—its charm, its appeal—is something I write about here frequently. I am both enamored with our city and furious with it at any given time. This love-irritated relationship with our town is most evident during the local election season.
This week, this space will be an advice column for our candidates running for both City Council and the mayoral races, a “Dear Abby” political version, if you will.
To Our Candidates:
This is the time when Ocala’s true character—its integrity—can either be upheld or denigrated by a select few who want to lead our city.
You have chosen to run for office because you wish to give back to the community that has given you so much. You have pledged to make Ocala a cultural and economic destination. You promise to listen to the concerns and needs of Ocala’s citizens.
We ask that you make good on these pledges. Don’t make them hollow sound bites. Follow through on what you promised at the many forums, radio shows and meetings you attended on the campaign trail. We’re counting on you.
Mudslinging in politics has become commonplace. Our Southern manners, on which we Ocalans pride ourselves, does not mean you must avoid conflict. They do, however, require that you fight fair and fight honorably. You must also maintain a level of decorum, particularly towards those who have served our community well—even if you disagree with their prior decisions and think they must be replaced.
Why are we still talking about the political maelstrom involving the fire chief and the city manager? We want to know what you’re going to do about taxes, mask mandates and providing fair compensation for our fire rescue and police departments. These are issues that affect our bottom line and the health of our families. City personnel decisions are not the concern of most Ocalans.
Though Ocala has grown, we realize there is still a tendency toward “back door politics” and favoritism, typical of small towns. Don’t fall for this. You are running to serve the people of Ocala, not a select special interest group. We, the citizens of Ocala, are your special interest group.
It boils down to this: We voters want what is best for our families, our businesses and our future generations. This is a similarity every Ocalan shares wherever they reside within city limits. We want our children to have access to a good education, our small businesses to flourish and police and fire departments that can provide us with quality care when we need it.
You, our candidates, have the power to provide us with these essentials. We need candidates who put the people first and the politics last.
Thank you for your courage to put yourselves out there to run for office. No matter who wins, you played an integral role in giving residents the power to choose.
Author’s note: Only 13.99 percent of the city’s population voted in 2017—get to the polls on September 21!