Three Qualify for City Commission Race

Three candidates have qualified to run in the Jan. 15 special election for the Lakeland City Commission seat vacated by Michael Dunn: Patrick Shawn Jones, Sara Roberts McCarley and Bill Watts.

Qualifying ended at noon today. Jorge Fonseca, who had planned to run, did not file the paperwork needed to become a candidate by the noon deadline, according to City Clerk Kelly Koos.

A runoff election will be held Feb. 12 if no candidate gets a majority of the votes.

The seat represents the city’s southwest quadrant, but all registered voters are eligible to cast ballots in the election. The seat was vacated as former Commissioner Michael Dunn resigned after he was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder. The winner will serve nearly three years that will remain in the term after the election.

People not currently registered to vote have until Dec. 17 to register in time to cast a ballot in the election.

Jones, 53, is a surgical sterilization technician at Lakeland Regional Health and a heavy-metal disc jockey for community radio station WMNF in Tampa. He ran for mayor last year, coming in third in a four-man field.

McCarley in 2009 founded the Randy Roberts Foundation, which prepares students for leadership through public service and scholarships. A 1993 mass communications graduate of Florida Southern College, she was executive director of Polk Vision from 2012 to 2016.

Watts, 53, is vice president for market outreach for Fintech Mortgage. He’s a University of Central Florida graduate who has lived in Lakeland since 1995 and has owned two small businesses here, Watts for Dinner and Antiquarian Restaurant.

Business Voice, the political arm of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, endorsed McCarley on Thursday, a day before qualifying for the office ended, a move that provoked online criticism from Jones and Fonseca.

Fonseca had filed all the documents necessary to run except a copy of his voter registration card; he turned it in 35 minutes past the deadline, The Ledger reported.

“I just lost track and forgot about it,” Fonseca told the newspaper. “Life happens. I’m not a politician. I just want to give back to the city and I’ll find other ways to do that.”

Fonseca posted on Facebook that he withdrew from the race because “I see the divisiveness of a city I love and treasure and I refuse to be another tool to divide this city.”