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Winter Park debate

Isaac Babcock

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"I find Mr. Lamm and Mrs. Cooper in agreement — I think I should buy a lottery ticket," Tom McMacken said, looking across a gathered crowd of hundreds at the Winter Park's candidate forum on Thursday, Feb. 4.

The hour-and-a-half political forum was often punctuated by humor but grew more contentious near the end as candidates fought to differentiate themselves.

But early on, there was a lot of agreement between City Commission candidates Carolyn Cooper and David Lamm for Seat 3, and Peter Gottfried and McMacken for Seat 4, as they dealt more playful jabs and frequently parroted each other's stances on commuter rail, improving downtown and campaign spending.

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Commission candidates (clockwise from top left) Carolyn Cooper, David Lamm, Tom McMacken and Peter Gottfried spoke Thursday on issues facing Winter Park.

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The candidates did have minor disagreements about the scope of the commuter rail project, with some in favor of a purpose-built Central Park station and some only wanting a simple stop.

"I'm definitely in favor of having the (commuter rail) station where one has been since 1881, thank God," Gottfried said.

"Until ridership increases to a point that warrants a station, I'm very comfortable with a stop in Central Park, and bringing people, not cars, to downtown and Central Park," McMacken said.

Cooper said she doesn't support a station at Denning Drive because the extra traffic flowing to the stations from Oviedo would be "detrimental to the community" and the city just doesn't have the money for it.

Lamm was very direct with his support of commuter rail in downtown.

"I unequivocally support having the rail station," he said.

All of the candidates were thrown a curveball when asked how they felt about corporate campaign contributions, a hot button issue after a recent controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality of corporations funding campaign advertisements for specific candidates.

"I agree with the Supreme Court decision," McMacken said. "I don't know how that trickles down to Winter Park. You're allowed to contribute to the candidate of your choice. What I like is it is limited to $500, and it's very transparent."

"I think contributions are free speech," Gottfried said. "If corporations want to give, great. If unions want to give, great. If individuals want to give, great."

"At this time I feel the system we have now makes sense," Lamm said. "It's reasonable. It has caps."

All candidates agreed that campaign spending is out of control, as they decried having to spend what Gottfried and McMacken estimated at $50,000 to win a campaign in Winter Park.

Cooper took a strong stance against the idea of corporate donations, though she admitted that she would accept them.

"I don't feel that it's a good idea to have anonymous donations," she said. "When LLCs donate, you don't really know who's donating. They're not required to have some sort of disclosure. If I could have my way with the world, we would all be responsible and accountable for every vote we made and would stand without an anonymous front. I would be more comfortable with one heartbeat, one vote."

Though the final exchanges between Gottfried and McMacken were largely civil, with Gottfried touting his experience and McMacken pointing to his more recent political experience, Cooper and Lamm both accused each other of misrepresenting themselves in their campaigns.

"The actions of my opponent are quite different in the past than what you've heard tonight," Lamm said of Cooper during closing comments. "We're tired of 'no' and 'can't'. We should be in the business of 'can' and 'do.'"

Cooper closed by accusing Lamm of allowing the contentious Carlisle development to nearly be built in downtown Winter Park in 2007, which the city paid developers to stop after a public outcry against it.

"What we had to pay for … were decisions that gave very special privileges to a select group of people," she said. "My opponent was the head of the Planning and Zoning Board at the time. My opponent voted for the Carlisle."