Chad McLeod will be the newest Lakeland city commissioner, elected today with 55% of the vote to 45% for Carole Philipson in a low-key runoff election held just after a long Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

With just one race on the Lakeland ballot, turnout was a scant 10.08%. (Since the votes are tabulated by the Polk Supervisor of Elections, the turnout number includes Winter Haven, where there was also a City Commission runoff.)

The vote count is still unofficial but includes both votes cast at polling places, and votes sent by mail. The tally: McLeod 3,895, Philipson 3,290

McLeod replaces Justin Troller on the seven-member, nonpartisan board. Troller was term-limited out after serving 12 years and leaves office at the end of the month.

With the exception of 10-year commissioner Phillip Walker, most of the commission is fairly new to elected office. Bill Read was elected to a second four-year term last month. Mayor Bill Mutz and Commissioners Scott Franklin and Stephanie Madden are completing their second year in office. And Sara Roberts McCarley was elected last January in a special election.

With no major policy issues differentiating them, McLeod and Philipson focused on their personal histories.

McLeod, a 37-year-old owner of a small public relations firm, positioned himself as a father with a young family wanting to better the community after working for a U.S. senator.

Philipson, 71, focused on her background as a career hospital executive who has been active on local community boards who wants to a community that young people will want to move back to.

The runoff election resulted from no candidate receiving a majority in the Nov. 5 general election. McLeod tallied 40.7% of the vote then, and Philipson got 31.5%. Next were Shandale Terrell with 18.8% and Ricky Shirah with 9%.

Voter turnout in Lakeland was 15.36% on Nov. 5. 

Both candidates presented themselves as business-friendly. They split the endorsements of the two largest local business political action committees.

McLeod received the nod of Lakeland First, whose small group of funders are generally active contributors to the Lakeland Economic Development Council. Philipson was endorsed by Business Voice of Greater Lakeland, the political arm of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce.

The race has been low-key since the general election a month ago. No forums were held to introduce them to the public. The most visible sign of the campaign were competing yard signs and a stream of mailed fliers.

The tone of the mailers was overwhelmingly positive with both candidates extolling their virtues and visions for the community. The only hints of controversy were two late-campaign mailers:

  • First one for McLeod from Lakeland First saying, “Only one person has a vision for Lakeland’s vision and a plan to get it done.”
  • Then one from Philipson stating: “Her opponent has no record of civic service or involvement. What will he do for us?”

Commissioners are paid a yearly salary of $29,733, a figure topped by both candidates’ fund-raising.

As of Nov. 1, McLeod had raised $39,801 in monetary donations, and Philipson had taken in $41,844.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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