Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary successfully defended his seat in Tuesday’s election against challenger Jim Fitch.
Winter Park has elected its mayor for the next three years – and it’s a familiar face.
Incumbent Steve Leary defended the mayor’s seat in Tuesday’s election with a convincing victory over challenger Jim Fitch.
Leary won the election with 71.99% of the votes, capturing 3,313 votes compared to Fitch’s 1,289, according to unofficial results from the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.
“I think the majority of the citizens in Winter Park are very happy with where we’re going as a city,” Leary said. “We’re making some great improvements. We’re honoring our past, but still looking forward to the future. We have to make sure that we’re preparing for our children what previous generations have prepared for us. I was very fortunate to have the support of people who’ve been here for generations and decades and former mayors … I’m just looking forward to continuing to improve our assets.”
The reelected mayor said he hopes to continue defending the city’s right to home rule. Several proposed bills at the state level that would have preempted local governments in regards to tree trimming, CRAs and short-term vacation rentals were shot down or didn’t receive enough support.
“There’s a lot of big issues happening in the state – one of the major issues that I’ve been championing is this home rule issue,” Leary said. “We need to make sure that we’re allowed to control our own destiny. With the influx of the population coming to Florida, we need to be able to make sure that what we have here is special. No disrespect to our neighbors, our neighbors are great. They have different cities. They have different towns than we do and we appreciate that.”
Fitch said that despite losing the election, he still stands firm on the issues he campaigned for – specifically his opinions regarding development in the city and how City Commission meetings are conducted.
“The election is over, but the issues that triggered my involvement have not gone away,” Fitch said. “If anything they have heightened the need for more of us to pay attention. Why? Because there’s only one Florida, and there’s only one Winter Park – it’s worth fighting for. Many voters have agreed with me. I’m encouraged. I stay positive. This ship can be turned around. I shall remain the loyal opposition – loyal to Winter Park and opposed to Leary.”
During his time as mayor, Leary has overseen numerous improvements and investments, including the renovation and restoration of the Winter Park Country Club golf course; the purchase of 55 acres of wetland area in the Howell Branch Preserve; securing state money to restore Lake Lillian in Mead Botanical Garden; removing the dense R-4 zoning category from the city’s zoning code; and urging the city to pursue a fiber optic network to help implement better traffic signalization and get cars moving throughout the city.
With this being Leary’s last term with the city due to term limits, the recently reelected mayor said he hopes to see more residents step up and become leaders in the city.
“Even if I wasn’t termed out, this would be my last term,” Leary said. “We have a lot of great folks of different ages who have so much to add and so much to offer to this community – they need to get involved.
“I see a lot of the same names coming across my desk for a number of different things. I like seeing new names. I like seeing new faces.”
Steven Leary first took the open seat of Winter Park Mayor in 2015 after defeating Cynthia Mackinnon in a tight election, earning 52.88 percent of the vote.
Before that Leary served as a City Commissioner for seven years.