District 1 Orange County commissioner election heats up

Winter Garden City Commissioner Bobby Olszewski and former Orange County District 1 Planning and Zoning Commissioner and Chairwoman Betsy VanderLey are the frontrunners to replace S. Scott Boyd.

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  • | 3:30 p.m. January 7, 2016
District 1 Orange County commissioner frontrunners Bobby Olszewski and Betsy VanderLey could produce the closest 2016 race in the county.
District 1 Orange County commissioner frontrunners Bobby Olszewski and Betsy VanderLey could produce the closest 2016 race in the county.
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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WEST ORANGE COUNTY  This year marks the last of eight as District 1 Orange County Commissioner for S. Scott Boyd, who has reached his term limit.

Although the general election is not until Nov. 8, the Aug. 30 primary would decide the winner of Boyd’s seat if one candidate secures more than 50% of the vote. 

Two West Orange candidates — Bobby Olszewski, current District 3 Winter Garden city commissioner, and Betsy VanderLey, former District 1 Planning and Zoning commissioner and chairwoman — are viewed as the frontrunners. 

A third candidate, Dr. Usha Jain, 65, is a physician at Emergi-Care Medical Center in Dr. Phillips who filed for this seat March 13. Her primary reason for running is a legal battle about a code violation pertaining to her business’s sign that had been in place for a decade. Since May, Jain has reported no campaign contributions to add to her in-kind total of $209.30 to end April, according to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections site. She said she has had no plans to actively campaign.

In contrast, Olszewski and VanderLey each have raised more than $30,000. Both have received endorsements and contributions from many local politicians, movers and shakers, which should make a competitive race.

A fourth candidate, Nuren Durre Haider, filed Dec. 28.

If no candidate wins a majority vote at the primary election, the top candidates will face off in the general election.


Olszewski said he had always had a goal of one day becoming county commissioner, and he felt the timing was right for him in September. He grew up in the Orange Tree neighborhood of Dr. Phillips.

Among community causes Olszewski is passionate about are youth sports and his faith, which merge in his involvement with the Roper YMCA Center, where he became chairman of the board of directors this year.

Whereas VanderLey has embraced Boyd’s support, Olszewski has said he would like to take the District 1 commissioner’s office in a different direction. His campaign centers on a slogan, “Residents and Community First,” with four pillars: ethical leadership, fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and public safety.

“My record as a commissioner is rooted in putting residents and community first, and I will continue this focus as an Orange County commissioner,” Olszewski said. “I do not have any conflicts with private business interests for votes that I will take as an Orange County commissioner. Nor will I purposely pit homeowners against special interests playing both sides of an issue. I will always make decisions placing residents and community first, which is a promise that people of Orange County can look forward to under my leadership.”

Olszewski believes ingenuity of local private businesses and residents will foster success in the community by putting faith in them more so than local government, including with finances.

“Politicians find it easy to spend money because it is not their money,” he said. “As a commissioner, my record shows that I spend public dollars as I would my own family’s, with a clear return on investment.”

Olszewski wants to avoid delays on actions, especially pertaining to overcrowding in local schools, he said. This goes along with the idea of synergistically maintaining the tourism capital of the world and a sense of community in development decisions — stimulating the economy without losing sight of the long-term future or just taking the easy way out, he said.

“Growth is inevitable, and it is critical that we put residents and community first with smart growth,” Olszewski said. “When you look at what we have accomplished in Winter Garden, you see evidence of what smart growth can do for a community.”

Within this philosophy, Olszewski believes wasteful spending can be reduced to the greatest benefit of the constituency, as well as that a lack of tax increases stimulates growth by keeping money with the residents.

“I have never voted for a tax increase,” he said. “Our government always needs to do more with less, rather than taking the easy way out by increasing ... tax burdens.”

This includes doing more to keep the community safe, such as providing all Orange County Sheriff’s Office and county fire rescue crews all they need, he said.


VanderLey, of Oakland, had volunteered for Boyd’s campaign and received a request from Boyd to run to fill his seat. She mulled this decision for two years, ultimately choosing to run based on the magnitude of effects from political decisions, she said.

“I didn’t anticipate ever running for office,” she said. “It was always that I’d help other people I believed in, like Commissioner Boyd and Marco Rubio, people like that I had a lot of confidence in.”

VanderLey estimated she saw 80% of BCC items in her three years on the Planning and Zoning Commission, which meant she already was influencing the community through recommendations, which she enjoyed.

“I ... thought I could roll up my sleeves and do it,” VanderLey said. “I felt like this is the next step in community service, in a way. I think the West Orange community is extraordinary in how they put their arms around people from the outside and say, ‘Let me help you find a place in Rotary; let me help you find a place in the Chamber.’”

VanderLey wants to offer Horizon West in particular that welcoming, so it feels as if it belongs to West Orange.

“When you ask people in Bithlo where they’re from, they say Orlando,” she said. “When you ask people out here where they’re from, they say West Orange or Winter Garden or Windermere. They identify very strongly with it, and I want to make sure that happens as we grow.”

As development continues in District 1 — through a process VanderLey hopes to streamline — she wants Horizon West to maintain agricultural roots while inheriting the bike trails and community events she associates with West Orange culture, she said. That kind of development goes with the other economic staple of the district, tourism, both of which she holds experience in as a business developer and contractor who has worked for Disney.

“I understand the business out there and what that brings to the table, and I’m grateful for it,” she said. “I just felt like I could connect people, having been here such a long time. I think that’s a lot of what a commissioner does: They facilitate opportunity in the community, to make sure the infrastructure’s in place for that.”

VanderLey mentioned the school siting process — a controversial topic in this district — needs to change while county commissioners continue improving their relationship with Orange County Public Schools.

“It’s not like we can put a barrier up at the county and say, ‘No more, we’re full,’” she said. “We’re going to have to do it like people from West Orange, where we wrap our arms around everybody and say, ‘Let us help you find your place in our community.’”

Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].



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