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FNN Politics and Power: Getting to Know Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary



WINTER PARK, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Nestled in a treelined historic area just west of Downtown Orlando is the beautiful City of Winter Park. There you will find Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary, who was elected in 2015. But if you’re like me, you want to get to know about the person behind the title. Let’s get to know Mayor Leary–his rise, his family, his career, and why public office?

Mayor Leary, one of 6 children, grew up in Rye, New York and describes his upbringing as “blue collar.” His maternal great grandfather and girlfriend, who eventually married, immigrated from Italy as teenagers with little to no money, family or really much more than the shirts on their backs. In addition to his father working a variety of jobs and his mom becoming a nurse, he learned early on the value of a dollar and the importance of a strong work ethic.

At age 13, Leary began working after school and during summers to help plan and pay for his education. Fortunately, he received a partial scholarship to attend a private school for the final three years of high school. which helped advance Leary to later attend Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. After graduating Leary moved back to New York, working in the advertising industry with such brands as Miller Brewing Company, United Parcel Service and Merrill Lynch.

Leary quickly excelled in advertising, working with arguably one of the most successful advertising agencies in the world, J. Walter Thompson, focusing on the emerging digital age. Leary eventually became bicoastal, landing a job in San Francisco as he continued to build his career and his resume.

Leary, 52, currently co-owns property management company Leary Management Group with is brother Bill, with twenty-five employees based in West Orange County. The two also co-own and run Flange Skillets International. They manufacture and sell gasket positioning devices primarily to the sub-sea segment of the pipeline industry. Mayor Leary has two patents and commercial divers use their products to seat gaskets in oil pipelines on the ocean floor and in other compromised environments–a far stretch from the world of advertising, but clearly an interesting industry at a time when our oceans and the environment are passionate issues for all Americans.

Mayor Leary ventured into politics and was elected to the Winter Park City Commission (Seat 1) in 2011 and reelected with no opposition in 2014, a clear testament to his community-minded approach to serving the people of Winter Park. In a highly contentious race in 2015, Leary was elected Mayor and reelected in 2018 with 72% of the vote. That too was a pretty impressive win.

So why politics? “I decided to run for office in Winter Park after attending a few City Commission meetings. I realized that younger families were not being represented at City Hall,” said Mayor Leary. “I decided to run to better represent my peers and bring more of a balance to the City Commission. Over the course of my tenure on the commission, we’ve made sure to respect our history, manage our present and plan our future.”

In recent years, that ambition caused Winter Park to pervade the news as the city’s struggle to grow clashed with its desire to maintain its charm as a majestic family destination.

“We’ve increased the number of historic homes, removed billboards, improved our corridors, implemented our first Urban Forestry Plan to proactively manage our tree canopy, increased our electric underground program to harden our utilities against weather incidents, removed the most dense zoning from our comprehensive plan, added parkland, invested heavily in our civic assets by improving our community center, golf course, football stadium, neighborhoods, library and civic center, and many more,” explained Mayor Leary.

Many might think these improvements would come at a high cost to Winter Park residents, but Mayor Leary added, “We did all of this without raising our millage rate in 11 years while at the same time we’ve increased our general fund reserve to almost 30% of our annual budget.”

Former Orange County Mayor candidate, entrepreneur and longtime Winter Park resident Rob Panepinto has great respect for Mayor Leary. “I had the opportunity to get to know Steve pretty well over the last few years. I’ve always appreciated how accessible he was in the community.” Residents and community leaders often comment on the Winter Park Mayor’s accessibility. Panepinto continued, “Even though the Winter Park mayor position may be technically a part-time job, Mayor Leary is always available and always listening to different people’s thoughts and opinions. And trust me, in Winter Park, there are always opinions….as people are very passionate about the community.

“I appreciate that while he definitely has real convictions and ideas, his approach is always balanced, listening to multiple sides of an issue. And of course, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with Steve where at some point, we [don’t] start to talk about wives and families.”

Photo courtesy of former Orange County mayoral candidate and Winter Park businessman Rob Panepinto (pictured).

Photo courtesy of former Orange County mayoral candidate and Winter Park businessman Rob Panepinto (pictured).

“Mayor Leary has been a strong advocate for home rule and for local elected government’s right to self governance. [He] serves on the Florida League of Mayors Board of Directors and he succeeded me as Chairman of the Orange County Council of Mayors,” said former Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn. “We had the pleasure of working on many local government issues and he was always a pleasure to work with in his commitment and dedication. I consider him a friend.”

Former Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn. Former Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn. Photo courtesy of the Town of Windermere.

Former Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn. Photo courtesy of the Town of Windermere.

Mayor Leary met his wife Caroline in 2001, at which point Leary’s brother was living in Winter Park, which just happened to be her hometown. After Leary’s brother offered him a position to help run his property management company, Leary and his wife moved to Winter Park in 2004. In 2005 they were blessed with triplets: Alexandra, Jack and William.

“My family is the most important thing in my life. Helping make our community a better place to live, work and thrive are at the core of who I am as a husband, father and community leader,” Mayor Leary expressed.

Mayor Steve Leary and his family. Photo courtesy of Mayor Leary.

Mayor Steve Leary and his family. Photo courtesy of Mayor Leary.

When asked about his future political aspirations, Leary responded, “Right now I’m focused on finishing up my final term as Winter Park Mayor. I enjoy public service. So I rarely say never to future opportunities that would allow me to work with others to help protect our regions past and plan it’s future.”


Randy Ross is a radio host and political contributor for Florida National News. |


Brooks Koepka wins LIV Golf 2023 Orlando Tournament



Brooks Koepka wins LIV Golf 2023 Orlando Tournament at Orange County National, Sunday, April 2, 2023.. Photo by J Willie David, III / Florida National News

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN Sports) – Brooks Koepka (-15) holds off Sebastian Muñoz (-14) to win the LIV Golf Tournament at Orange County National, the first time the new league came to Florida. This was the third event of the 2023 season. There will be ten more individual matches around the world before the 14th of the season, which will be a team competition.

LIV Golf, which bills itself as “Golf, but louder,” features several differences when compared to the traditions of the PGA. Golfers compete not only individually, but also as members of twelve teams of four. Teams are ranked after each event based on their top three scores. Those rankings will come into play for week fourteen of the season to determine seedings. In addition, if a golfer isn’t pulling his weight, he may be replaced as the season goes on. There could also be other roster changes, just like in other team sports.

In addition, LIV Golf events feature all sorts of interactive experiences at their Fan Village, where fans can compete in putting, chipping, and driving. Younger fans can watch shows at the kids zone, or can get temporary tattoos or face painting. Loud music blares before and after the tournament play, and there are plenty of food and beverage options for all. The tournament begins with a shotgun start around 1:00 p.m., and the action ends just over four hours later, unlike the PGA, where staggered tee times and more players means a longer day of golf. Also, LIV Golf events feature only three days and 54 holes (Roman numeral “LIV”) of action, compared to the PGA’s four days and 72 holes.

LIV Golf’ Fan Village at Orange County National, Thursday, March 30, 2023. Photo by J Willie David, III / Florida National News


Fan Village. Photo credit: Mike Brodsky, Florida National News

The PGA has already responded to LIV Golf, announcing that next year, there will be fewer golfers allowed to compete in designated events (about 70 players compared to the current 120), but that will mean higher payouts to the PGA golfers. LIV Golf has attracted many high profile golfers by guaranteeing minimum payouts to join the upstart league.

The next LIV Golf event will take place April 21-23 in Adelaide, Australia. Meanwhile, The PGA’s Masters Tournament tees off April 6-9 in Augusta, Georgia. Stay tuned to Florida National News for more.

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Magic Beat Raptors for Second Win in a Row



ORLANDO, Fla. (Florida National News) – The Orlando Magic (7-20) continued their winning ways against the Toronto Raptors (13-13), defeating them 113-109 , just two days after a come-from-behind overtime victory against the Los Angeles Clippers. This two game winning streak puts an end to the Magic’s previous nine game losing streak.

The Magic started strong, taking a 37-25 lead into the second quarter, led by 10 first quarter points from Franz Wagner. But the Raptors caught up to the Magic midway through the second quarter led by Pascal Siakam and Gary Trent Jr. But at halftime, the Magic held a slight lead, 67-63.

The Magic extended their lead to 94-87 with remarkably impressive scoring from Franz Wagner who added 14 points in the third quarter alone. In the fourth quarter, the Raptors tied it up 108-108 with about two minutes remaining after two free throws by OG Anunoby. Paolo Banchero made one of two subsequent free throws, and Moe Wagner drew the charge from Gary Trent Jr. to negate his two point basket. Fred Van Vleet later added a free throw to tie the game at 109-109. A Franz Wagner tip layup put the Magic up 111-109. A missed shot by Fred Van Vleet sealed the Raptors loss. Banchero’s two free throws put the Magic ahead 113-109 at the end of the game.

Franz Wagner led the scoring for the Magic with 34 points, while Paolo Banchero scored 23. Mo Bamba finished with 13 rebounds. Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz ended with 5 assists.

Several Magic players remain injured and were unable to play, including Wendell Carter Jr. (plantar fascia strain), Gary Harris (strained right hamstring), Chuma Okeke (left knee soreness), Jalen Suggs (right ankle soreness) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee recovery). Isaac has started his rehab program, playing in full contact 5 on 5 practice games with the Lakeland G League affiliate, and hopes to return to the court soon for Orlando.

The Magic face the Raptors at Amway once again on Sunday, 12/11 at 6:00 p.m. Be sure to follow and for more.

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Gaetz friend gets 11 years for sex crime, other counts



ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A former Florida tax collector whose arrest led to a federal probe into U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for sex trafficking of a minor and other crimes.

Joel Greenberg, former tax collector for Seminole County, had pleaded guilty to six federal crimes, also including identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official. Prosecutors said he paid at least one girl to have sex with him and other men.

“Nothing justifies my actions. My conduct is so shameful. I feel remorse for what I’ve done,” Greenberg said in court Thursday.

Greenberg’s attorney had asked U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell for leniency, saying that his client had assisted in investigations of 24 people, including eight for sex crimes. Defense attorney Fritz Scheller said that Greenberg’s cooperation has led to four federal indictments, and that he believed additional ones were expected in the coming month.

Greenberg’s cooperation could play a role in an investigation into his friend Gaetz over whether he paid a 17-year-old girl for sex. Gaetz has denied the allegations and previously said they were part of an extortion plot. No charges have been brought against the Republican congressman, who represents a large part of the Florida Panhandle.

Federal prosecutors had asked for a significant reduction in Greenberg’s prison sentence, agreeing during a court hearing on Wednesday to a reduced range of nine years and three months to 11 years. Presnell ended up imposing the upper limit of that range.

The minor in the sex crimes case was almost an adult and had advertised as being over age 18 in her escort profile on the website “Seeking Arrangements,” which facilitates “sugar daddy” relationships, Scheller wrote in court papers.

The defense attorney also said that Greenberg “has provided significant substantial assistance to the government in the areas of public corruption, election fraud, wire fraud, and sex trafficking.”

Scheller also had asked the judge to take into consideration Greenberg’s struggles with mental illness, starting with an attention deficit disorder diagnosis at age 7 and panic attacks, depressive and anxiety disorders as an adult. At the time he committed the crimes, he had bipolar disorder with symptoms of mania, which affected his judgment and impulse control, Scheller said.

Greenberg has been linked to other Florida politicians and their associates. So far, none has been implicated in the sex trafficking investigation.

Some documents related to Greenberg’s cooperation were filed under seal and out of the public eye, with prosecutors and the defense attorney saying they were part of ongoing investigations being conducted by federal authorities in Florida and Washington, as well as state investigators.

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