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BusinessVoice, the political arm of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce, announced today it has endorsed Bill Mutz for mayor and three candidates for City Commission: Stephanie Madden, Michael Dunn and Scott Franklin.

Members of BusinessVoice of Greater Lakeland interviewed candidates Wednesday and Thursday before casting their votes for the candidates “we feel best share the vision for making Lakeland a great place to do business and a great place to live,” said the group’s chairman, Mike Hickman.

Mutz, former owner of Lakeland Automall, is a former member of the Lakeland Chamber board. His opponents for mayor are Christopher Diaz, James A. Green and Patrick Shawn Jones.

Dunn, who owns Vets Army Navy Surplus, graduated recently from BusinessVoice’s Public Leadership Institute, a course to train business-minded people interested in running for office. He is running for the southwest seat on the City Commission. Two of the other three candidates for that seat — Larry Durrence and Jorge Fonseca — also completed the PLI course. The other candidate in the race is Pablo Sologaistoa.

Franklin, president and CEO of Lanier Upshaw Inc., an insurance company, is running for the southeast seat on the commission and also graduated from the Chamber’s PLI. His opponent is Sandy Toledo.

Madden is co-owner of Madden Branded Goods, a Chamber member, and is a graduate of the organization’s Leadership Lakeland program. She is running for the at-large seat on the commission, as are incumbent Jim Malless, Laurel Lee Pullo, Ricky Shirah (a graduate of the recent PLI) and Kathy Smith-Barsotti.

Earlier this year, BusinessVoice voted to oppose the strong mayor initiative, which is on the same Nov. 7 ballot as the mayor and commission races.

There’s a possibility that more candidates will end up on the ballot. While 15 individuals have filed papers declaring their intent to run, the period to qualify for the ballot is Sept. 18-22.

BusinessVoice was created in 2000 “as an organization to support pro-business candidates and to promote issues which impact the business community,” according to its website. “BusinessVoice works to ensure the election of business-minded candidates to state and local office, and to serve as an endorsement board for those individuals who personify the objectives of the business community.”

The organization has raised $2,550 in donations this year. Since Sept. 2013, it has raised $33,380 and spent $18,223, according to records it filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

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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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