A mad dash to Winter Park City Hall has left a Winter Park City Commissioner’s seat in limbo and a challenger waiting for the end of a legal fight to get on the ballot.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper had already held her victory party on Jan. 10 as news of a possible late challenger began filtering throughout the city. Ross Johnston, a longtime marketing executive who lists his current occupation as the landfill business, had walked into City Hall at 11:50 a.m., on Jan. 8, 10 minutes before the deadline to officially file his campaign papers.
Johnston said he was planning on volunteering at a local school when a friend told him that the election was not going to be contested, prompting him to run for office.
“We literally ran,” he said. “It was actually fun. To get the application in at 11:58 was pretty much an incredible feat.”
The mad dash may have happened quickly, but some powerful friends signed petitions to get Johnston on the ballot. Commissioner Steven Leary, developer Alan Keen and three members of developer Dan Bellows’ family signed petitions to put Johnston on the ballot during that morning rush to City Hall.
But after what a lawsuit alleges as stall tactics held up the process, Johnston’s attorney wrote that he was prevented from being able to file on time, and it was because of the city clerk’s ignorance of the law.
That 26 page document was set to be argued in court Wednesday morning at press time by attorney Becky Vose, representing Johnston against the city clerk, Cindy Bonham. Vose said that after that hearing she does not know how long the process may be drawn out.
“I think we’ve got a good case,” Johnston said. “I just wanted to get on the ballot.”
Cooper said that if Johnston continues to fight the clerk’s decision, she’ll be on the campaign trail.
“I’m going to campaign faster and harder, and I think the fact that he was totally ill-prepared and not in compliance with the requirements is not going to play out very well for him because I don’t think people want that kind of representation.”