City Commissioner Bill “Tiger” Read was reelected to a third term after no one opposed him in the race for the District B – Northeast seat. The deadline to qualify for city office was noon Friday.
“I just found out, thank you,” Read said when congratulated.
Read, 75, who owns a real estate business, said his top priority remains building a fire station in northeast Lakeland to serve a constantly growing population. He also hopes the commission will maintain its collegiality following November’s election.
“I hope that, whoever wins, that we have a good cohesive group and that we work together,” he said.
This will be Read’s final four-year stint as a commissioner, under term limits spelled out in the City Charter.
The next six and a half weeks will be much more stressful for six candidates jockeying for the other two seats on the ballot in the nonpartisan election.
District A – Northwest
Three people are competing for the seat held for 13 years by former Commissioner Phillip Walker in the city’s northwest quadrant. Walker, who was facing term limits, resigned to launch an unsuccessful bid for Florida House District 50.
Lolita Berrien is a lifelong resident of Lakeland whose top priorities are infrastructure, housing and homeless assistance. She is a mother of three, grandmother of five and great-grandmother of 16.
Berrien, 67, has worked for Polk County Public Schools for 26 years. She is currently an administrative assistant at the Lincoln Avenue Academy magnet school, enrolling students and keeping track of official records. She also leads piano and exercise classes.
This is Berrien’s first political campaign, but she is no stranger to civic participation. Berrien has served more than 20 years as a volunteer in the community, including as president of the Webster Park South Neighborhood Association, former presiding chair of the Neighborhood Association Coalition, president of Lakeland City Wide Mission, a current member of the Code Enforcement Board, a former member of the Planning and Zoning Board, and a member of the Alumni Association of the Lakeland City Police Academy.
Guy LaLonde Jr.
Guy LaLonde Jr. is a U.S. Navy veteran and small business owner whose top priorities include strengthening the alliances between the public and private sector. He wants to improve infrastructure, roadways and electrical resources, utilizing strategic and planned growth. He also wants to attract more talent to Lakeland and ensure adequate employment opportunities are available for local students when they complete their education.
LaLonde, 56, is a Lake Gibson High School graduate and Publix meat manager who owns Lakeland Moon Walk of Polk County Inc. and Under One Tent Events Inc. Lakeland has been his home for more than 40 years with his wife, Tonya LaLonde, their seven grown children and three grandchildren.
LaLonde currently sits on the Polk County Housing and Finance Authority Board, as well as the boards for KidsPack and Central Florida Speech and Hearing. He has served as a board member for Downtown Lakeland Partnership and is involved with BRIDGE Local, the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, NAACP, the Rotary Club and the Republican Club of Lakeland.
Samuel Simmons has represented the northwest district on an interim basis for the past 10 months, since being appointed by the City Commission to fill the remainder of Walker’s term. The commissioners selected him over seven other candidates, including Berrien and LaLonde — but to keep the seat he will have to persuade voters.
Simmons, 66, has owned a housing and financial services consulting firm since 2004. Before that, he was an accountant with the city of Lakeland and served as finance manager for the Lakeland Housing Authority.
Simmons’ priorities are affordable housing, economic development and small business, growth management, public transportation, improved infrastructure and public safety — including a new Police Athletic League building for the area’s underprivileged youth.
Simmons served as president of the Webster Park South Neighborhood Association for 20 years and was the first president of the city’s Neighborhood Association Coalition. He co-founded the nonprofit Central Florida Business Diversity Council.
At-Large Seat 2
While some commissioners represent geographic districts and must live in the areas they hope to represent, the mayor and the two “at large” commissioners can live anywhere within Lakeland.
The at-large seat 2 has been held by first-term incumbent Chad McLeod since 2020. He won a four-way race and runoff election to assume the seat formerly held by term-limited Commissioner Justin Troller. McLeod was unopposed for a while, but drew two challengers earlier this month. Dennis Odisho filed his candidacy paperwork on Sept. 1 and Kay Klymko filed on Sept. 11.
Kay Klymko is a relative newcomer to Lakeland, moving here with her husband four years ago to be with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.
She said her top priorities are the coordination of human resources and development due to the rapid population growth, expansion of senior citizen services and the establishment of a senior center, affordable housing, homelessness and historic preservation.
Klymko, 73, is a retired Wayne State University professor. She is a member of First United Methodist Church, through which she volunteers for KidsPack and the Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment (PEACE). She is a board member and historian of the Lakeland chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and works part time as a nurse practitioner doing telehealth.
Chad McLeod is seeking a second term on the City Commission. He is a Polk County native and fourth-generation Floridian.
McLeod, 41, and his wife Erin have three children and are members of Trinity Presbyterian Church, as well as licensed foster parents. McLeod serves on multiple committees and councils, including the Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board, Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, Central Florida Regional Development Council and Polk Transportation Planning Organization.
McLeod lived in Venezuela in college, is a fluent Spanish-speaker, and is the commission’s representative to the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council. He worked on the staff of U.S. Senator Mel Martinez from 2005 to 2010, before moving to Lakeland to run a PR and communications consulting firm that worked with clients ranging from Fortune 500 brands to local nonprofits. In 2022, he joined the communications team for Compassion International, a global child development nonprofit, for which he oversees internal communications for Latin America and the Caribbean region.
Dennis Odisho is a construction executive whose priorities include the development of a strategic plan to ensure infrastructure, downtown redevelopment, public safety and quality of life, and attracting national organizations and businesses to Lakeland.
Odisho, 44, has called Lakeland home for the past seven years but has spent 20 years in Florida. He worked his way through college at Purdue University with a job in the construction industry and is now senior business strategy manager for Barton Malow Builders, a national firm.
He is also a father, speaker, author and mentor. He sits on the Lakeland Regional Health Foundation Board of Directors and is an Everglades University Tampa Program Advisory Council member. He has previously served on the AdventHealth West Florida Foundation Board of Directors and as a varsity soccer coach for Spoto High School in Riverview and Robinson High School in Tampa.
The election is Nov. 7. The deadline for voters to request mail-in ballots is Oct. 26. People who want to vote by mail can send a request to email@example.com, call (863) 534-5888, or make the request online at polkelections.gov/Mail-in-Ballot-Request-Form.
Early voting begins Oct. 23 and will be available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays through Nov. 3 at the Polk County Government Center, 930 E. Parker Street.
LkldNow and the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a “Politics in the Park” candidate forum from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 10 at the Coleman-Bush Building at 1104 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave.
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