Orange County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Pete Clarke is taking a community first approach


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At a small media event on Monday, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke sat down with Orlando Weekly to give his two cents on why he should be the next county mayor.

Clarke – a three-term Republican commissioner, who was one of the local GOP party's first to back same-sex marriage in 2014, prior to its nationwide legalization – is facing Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and businessman Rob Panepinto in the race to replace outgoing county Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who's leaving office due to term limits.

A resident of the area for decades, Clarke spent almost two decades as the deputy director of the Orange County Health and Family Services Department, where, according to his campaign website, he oversaw more than 1,000 employees and a budget of more than $150 million. Departments that fell under his supervision included the environmental protection department; residential services for abused, abandoned and neglected children and teens; and the county's mental health services; among others.

Clarke refers back his tenure in the position when he brings up his passion for combatting human trafficking. He points to how, in late 2015, he proposed an local anti-human trafficking ordinance that, following its passage, required the county's strip clubs and massage parlors to post in-house warning signs displaying the hotline for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center as a way in aiding the fight against sex trafficking and forced labor.

According to data from the Florida Department of Children and Families, nearly 1,900 reports of human trafficking statewide occurred in 2016, which represented a 54 percent increase from the previous year.

"When you start reading about human trafficking and getting involved in it, you try to get to the core of it. It's the purest form of evil," Clarke says. "It's slavery – modern slavery."

Clarke also calls himself an "unabashed environmentalist," making him a unicorn of sorts in the world of the Florida Republican Party.

"It is what it is," Clarke says in his signature drawl. "We've only got one planet, so let's not destroy this one too quickly."

When mention of how Orange County commissioners voted unanimously to reimpose a three-day waiting period on the sale of firearms at gun shows and flea markets comes up, as well as mention of the state preemptive laws, Clarke takes a moment to pause.

"If we weren't covered, and our lawyers spent a lot of time covering us, what could have happened to us commissioners is a $5,000 fine and removal from office and 90 days in jail, or whatever else," Clark says. "So from a constitutional standpoint, we were in good shape. You know, if there's a wormhole there" – he means a loophole in this context – "let's not let people go through it."

He adds: "I think it's a testament to something I would achieve as mayor. I just want to ramp it up at the mayor's level. You know, we're going to do transportation, we're going to do growth, we're going to do housing. We're going to do all those things," as in Central Florida's most pressing issues.

Clarke refers back to 2012, his second attempt at running for county commissioner after taking a romping at the ballot box in 2010. In 2012, following a recount, Clarke won by just 70 votes. However, in 2016, he was reelected by almost 70 percent of the vote.

It's in part his reasoning for continuing to seek higher office. While Clarke is eligible to run for another term as county commissioner and then call it quits – or, as he puts it, he could have then gone on to the "old commissioners' home" – he says he wants to continue his public service.

"I know what's basically coming down the pipe," Clarke says. "I've been through the bad time with the county. So I've dealt with it as a staffer. As mayor, I can deal with it again."

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