Orlando 2023 election results: Who won and who lost at the ballot box

Dyer, Sheehan, Burns win reelection easily; HD35 primary races are closely contested

Election results are in for locally elected seats up for grabs in the city of Orlando, as well as a Florida House district race that shaped up to be rather competitive.

Six candidates competed for the District 35 seat in Tuesday's special primary election, which was left vacant after Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins' resigned from the job earlier this year to take up another one that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis handpicked for him.

Meanwhile, three city seats were also on the ballot: Orlando mayor, Orlando city commissioner District 4, and Orlando city commissioner District 6. The District 2 seat on city council was also up for grabs, but beyond incumbent commissioner Tony Ortiz, no other candidate filed to run for that seat this year. (Note: You only saw a city commission race on your ballot if you live in a district where a seat was up for election.)

City races are officially nonpartisan. The Florida House race is not. Let's dive in:

City of Orlando

First things first: All three city incumbents — Mayor Buddy Dyer, District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan, and District 6 Commissioner Bakari Burns — won reelection Tuesday. Tony Ortiz of District 2 was reelected by default, since he faced zero challengers.

Orlando mayoral race

Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer, facing three opponents on the ballot this year, handily won a sixth term in office, with 72% of the vote. Dyer,  a registered Democrat, faced three opponents: Samuel Ings, Tony Vargas, and Steve Dixon.

Dixon, a former state Senate candidate who tried (and failed) to boot Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart out of office last year, trailed with 15% of the vote. Dixon, who ran against Stewart in 2022 as a Republican, campaigned for mayor using the highly original slogan, "Make Orlando Great Again."

Samuel Ings, a retired Orlando Police Department captain, got 8% of the vote. Ings formerly served as city commissioner for District 6 for 13 years. He was succeeded by sitting city commissioner Bakari Burns in 2020 after Ings decided to run against Dyer for mayor in 2019. He came up short then as he did this year, campaigning on a public safety platform.

Tony Vargas, a business owner and fitness trainer who was reportedly entering power-lifting competitions by the time  he was 14, got just under 4% of the vote. Vargas formerly supported Buddy Dyer in his role as mayor, but told the Orlando Sentinel that the state of downtown was "horrendous" and that Dyer didn't deserve another four years.

Mayor Dyer reportedly told the Orlando Sentinel that this next four-year term would be his last, if re-elected. Dyer first assumed office in 2003 after his predecessor, former mayor Glenda Hood, was appointed Florida Secretary of State.

District 4 City Council

Six-term incumbent Patty Sheehan, who's served on city council longer than any other city commissioner, won reelection on Tuesday with 64% of the vote (nearly 4,500 votes total), facing off against two challengers: Randy Ross, former Orange County chairman of Donald Trump's 2020 presidential campaign; and Katie Koch, a business executive.

Koch trailed Sheehan with 25% of the vote. Koch's campaign priorities included passing term limits, fighting crime by further bloating law enforcement's budget, rolling back pay raises for city commissioners, and speeding up the permitting process for business start-ups.

Randy Ross, an openly-gay Republican who reportedly wants to crack down on panhandling and throw more money at OPD (and its apparently lacking $205 million budget), won 10% of the vote.

District 6 City Council

District 6 incumbent Bakari Burns, who was first elected in 2019, won re-election with 82% of the vote. Burns faced just one challenger this year: Rufus Hawkins, a business owner who's run for elected office multiple times with no success.

Early voter turnout was reportedly low for both city elections and the House District 35 special election this year, the Orlando Sentinel reported Monday.

Florida House District 35

In Tuesday's special election (a primary), Democrat Tom Keen and Republican Erika Booth advanced to the district's general election. Keen just barely surpassed opponent Rishi Bagga with 35.4% of the vote (1,849 votes as of 8:15 p.m.) to Bagga's 34.4% of the vote (1,804 votes). 

Booth won 48% of the vote in the Republican primary. Tuesday marked HD 35's primary election. The actual winner won't be chosen until a general election on Jan. 16, 2024.

The race was packed: three Democrats and three Republicans ran for the hot seat.

On the Democratic side:
  • Tom Keen: Keen, a Navy veteran who served on Orlando’s Citizens’ Police Review Board and Veteran Advisory Council, was just short of winning the Democratic nomination in last year's primary. Top priorities, according to his website, include protecting the environment, protecting reproductive freedom, affordable housing, and pushing back against the censorship agenda of "Radical Republicans."
  • Rishi Bagga: A civil attorney and small business owner, Bagga won the primary election for HD 35 in 2022, but lost to former Rep. Hawkins in the general election, earning 44% of the vote to Hawkins' 55%.  Bagga picked up a handful of endorsements ahead of the primary this year, including an early endorsement from former state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. Bagga campaigned on "common-sense solutions" to Florida's affordability crisis, voicing support for expanding Medicaid, fighting rising insurance premiums, protecting abortion access, and supporting law enforcement while working to end over-incarceration.
  • Marucci Guzmán: Guzmán, who's executive director of the nonprofit Latino Leadership, was reportedly recruited by Ruth's List and other state Democrats to run. Although she's a registered Democrat, Guzmán has been eyed by some warily due to her Republican connections. She's married to former Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia, which makes her the sister-in-law of sitting Rep. Susan Plasencia, who won former state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith's seat in an upset last year. Even so, she picked up endorsements from a number of state Democrats, and Orange County school board members Angie Gallo and Maria Salamanca.
On the Republican side:
  • Erika Booth: An Osceola County school board member (and wife of Osceola County commissioner Ricky Booth) who garnered the support of the Republican Party of Florida ahead of Tuesday's primary. Booth managed to get Big Business on her side, with donations from the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association (which represents a bunch of hotel groups, including Disney resorts), Comcast, prison healthcare company Centene, and the Apartment Association, which hates rent control and loves state preemption when it prevents local governments from rolling out tenant protections that outlaw bad landlord practices.
  • Ken Davenport: A real estate agent, former probation officer, and flight attendant who lost to former Rep. Fred Hawkins in the 2022 GOP primary. Davenport faced some controversy due to having briefly registered as a no-party voter, which brought his eligibility as a Republican candidate into question.
  • Scotty Moore: Former director of Campus Crusade for Christ, a Christian nonprofit, Moore ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress (District 9)  in 2022, despite picking up endorsements from Mark Meadows, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and Florida Senator Rick Scott, according to Moore's campaign website.

The special election for Florida House District 35, covering parts of Orange and Osceola counties, shaped up to be a competitive race, featuring three Democrats and three Republicans.

The HD 35 seat was left vacant earlier this year after Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped Republican representative Fred Hawkins to be president of South Florida State College after a failed presidential search. Hawkins, an Ohio native, resigned from his elected position to take the job.

Florida's Democratic Party has been eyeing the HD 35 race as an opportunity to flip a GOP seat blue, as Republicans continue to enjoy a massive voter registration edge in the increasingly red state. U.S. President Joe Biden won the district by roughly five points in 2020, according to Politico, and Democrats still out-register Republicans in the district.

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About The Author

McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
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