Observer to host District 1 candidate debate

The debate will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, on Orlando College of Osteopathic Medicine’s beautiful, new campus in Horizon West.

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For tickets, click here.

To submit questions, email to [email protected] with the subject line: “District 1 Candidate Debate Question.”

You’ve likely heard it by now: Horizon West is the fastest-growing master-planned community in Orange County — and one of the fastest-growing areas in the state.

And with that boom comes all the typical growing pains — traffic, overcrowded schools, infrastructure strain, environmental concerns and more.

Furthermore, and obviously, it also comes with new people — many of whom are transplants from other states and countries.

All of that combined makes the race for the Orange County Commission District 1 seat the most important local election on the ballot.

Indeed, all development decisions in the Horizon West area are made by the County Commission. And of the seven board members, Horizon West voters choose one.

To help you make an informed decision at the polls, the Observer Media Group is presenting the 2024 Orange County District 1 Candidate Debate. The debate will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, on Orlando College of Osteopathic Medicine’s beautiful, new campus in Horizon West. Tickets are free but limited, and if you’re interested in attending, I suggest you reserve yours as soon as possible. To secure yours, visit

The debate will feature incumbent Nicole Wilson and challenger Austin Arthur, the candidates who will appear on your primary ballot Aug. 20. Both have a long history and a deep love for the West Orange and Southwest Orange communities, and we are lucky to have two qualified and active members of our community ready and willing to represent us at the county level.

Wilson was elected to the seat in 2020 after defeating incumbent Betsy VanderLey. A Gotha resident, Wilson is an attorney who has worked with individuals and non-profit environmental organizations to help them navigate local, state and federal laws. She is a member of the Florida Bar Environmental and Land Use Section, Florida Bar Animal Law Section, The American Bar Association State and Local Government Law Group, and the Orange County Bar Association. She also has served on several Orange County Public Schools PTA, PTO and SAC boards.

Arthur is a local entrepreneur, community advocate and a former firefighter/paramedic. With his brother, he founded Gymnastics USA in Winter Garden and also runs Stars and Stripes Marketing Services. The Winter Garden resident serves on several local boards, including the Winter Garden Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board, West Orange Habitat for Humanity, Challenge 22 to End Veteran Suicide, Central Florida YMCA, West Orange Scholarship Foundation, Eight Waves Children and Family Services, and Explore and Soar Children’s Museum.

Before the debate, I urge you to get to know both by visiting their respective websites: and

At the Observer’s debate, both candidates will have three minutes for introductory statements. Then, in alternating fashion, they will field a series of questions. Each candidate will be allotted two minutes for answers, followed by a one-minute rebuttal from the opposing candidate. At the conclusion of the question-and-answer portion of the debate, each will be given three minutes for closing statements.

Note-taking will be allowed; however, props will not.

Our moderator will be Sports Editor Sam Albuquerque; and I will serve as our timekeeper.

In addition to questions created by our Observer editorial staff, the debate also will include questions from you, the voters. If you have questions you’d like to submit for consideration, please email them to me, [email protected], with the subject line: “District 1 Candidate Debate Question.”

In nearly every development story we publish, we have some residents celebrating the made decision and others bemoaning it. This race for the District 1 County Commission seat is your chance to make your voice heard before those decisions are made. And before you head to the polls to fill in that bubble on the ballot, it is imperative you know how these two candidates differ. 

I hope to see you there.



Michael Eng

As a child, Editor and Publisher Michael Eng collected front pages of the Kansas City Star during Operation Desert Storm, so it was a foregone conclusion that he would pursue a career in journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his wife and three children, or playing drums around town. He’s also a sucker for dad jokes.

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