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Candidates occasionally traded jabs during an otherwise cordial Meet the Candidates Night at the Tuscawilla Country Club on Sept. 15, as many Winter Springs residents met, for the first time, who they’d be voting for on Nov. 8.
Winter Springs municipal candidates for mayor and City Commission Districts 2 and 4 gave introductions, answered questions and gave their closing speeches to a room of an estimated 150 residents for 90 minutes on a rainy Thursday.
“We should all be proud of what we’ve built here,” Mayor Kevin McCann said, while acknowledging that the city has issues that he said the current Commission is working to solve.
Though all candidates shared, in different words, that they hoped to make the city better or continue to keep it on magazines’ lists of top places to live, there were disagreements. Few barbs were traded directly, but incumbents took issue with rumors and insults being made on social media.
District 2 Commissioner and Deputy Mayor Kevin Cannon, while appearing to gesture toward District 4 candidate and former Commissioner Cade Resnick, said “I’ve been accused multiple times by one of the candidates here of being a sociopath.”
Water issues discussed
All candidates mentioned fixing the city’s water systems. The Commission recently passed multiple votes in 2021 and 2022 to set repair plans in place. The city’s wastewater treatment systems are in the process of being redesigned and rebuilt after a May 4 vote.
“We need serious change,” mayoral candidate Mark Caruso said. “We need to move forward with the proper methods to get our water fixed.”
Referring to an incident with a water spill, Resnick said residents had called him for help. “I came and I was told there’s no issue. We smelled the issue. We knew there was an issue, and this has continued.”
Cannon, McCann and Commissioner TiAnna Hale touted the city’s recent improvements.
“One of the things that we’ve done now is we do community workshops with all of our faith leaders, all of our small businesses, and really have real true roundtable discussions, have real problem-solving discussions that we can have real discussions that meet our needs, and I want to continue that,” Hale said.
Cannon said that he was proud of the work the current city officials and engineers had done to solve past issues, including its water, but that social media rumors suggested that “…all those multiple engineers are going to put their professional engineering licenses on the line to come in and lie to the residents of Winter Springs about our water,” Cannon said. “That’s basically the narrative for those of you who’ve been on social media, that you’ve been hearing for over a year. And I’m here to tell you that there’s no fact that supports it whatsoever.”
Trees, crime and finances
Candidates vying to unseat incumbents worked to highlight other city issues they said they’d solve.
“We need to be a good steward of the land and also our neighbors as far as the school board, and the county and the other municipalities around us, and right now I am not hearing favorable things about our city and they’re begging me to win,” District 2 candidate Victoria Colangelo said.
Touting his law enforcement background, Caruso said he wanted to address the city’s crime rate.
“We went from No. 4 to No. 16 as the safest city in the state,” Caruso said, appearing to reference Safewise.com’s list of 143 qualifying Florida cities, which sources FBI crime data.
With the most recent FBI data, Winter Springs’ violent crime rate is 57.5% below the national average, and the property crime rate is 61.7% below the national average. Winter Springs Police Chief Matthew Tracht reported in June that the city’s crime rate is trending down compared to last year.
“Our community needs better leadership,” Caruso said, referring to recent departures of police officers and the city’s chief, Chris Deisler, who retired. “We need integrity. That’s one thing that in my opinion we are lacking.”
Resnick vowed to work on “rebuilding our parks system, especially on the west side.”
Winter Springs Mayor Candidate Brandon Morrisey raised eyebrows in the room when he said, “Some candidates are not qualified to be the face of our $40 million budget if they can’t manage a $10,000 household income,” appearing to refer to the personal finances of the mayor, who later revealed that, while his wife had been battling lung cancer, bills had strained his family’s budget.
“It hit us,” McCann said, holding back tears. “And like many Americans I paid my credit cards late. It happened. I’m telling you it happened. And that is something that I will live with. But my family is everything to me. And I have no regrets. None. I am a very fortunate, fortunate man.”
In their closing remarks many of the candidates tried to distinguish themselves from each other, with Colangelo mentioning that she wanted to preserve the city’s trees.
“Let’s not rip down 100-year-old trees and then plant a tree that’s, you know, a seedling,” she said.
But in his closing remarks in which he said that at least two of the candidates had been asked by developers to run for election, Cannon said that Colangelo’s job results in trees being cut down.
“I respect very much my opponent’s work in the mitigation banking industry, but I want you all to understand clearly that she sells the mitigation bank credits that allows developers to mow down trees and wetlands,” Cannon said. “That’s what she does, and the documentation is abundant.”
Watch the candidate forum here