ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – If I told you it was a park bench that launched the campaign and ultimate win of City of Orlando District 5 Commissioner Regina Hill, would you believe me? In fact, it was the lack of park benches and tables that encouraged a lady to walk into Orlando City Hall one day seeking answers. Her common sense questions sparked a fire in her belly, and I guess you could say the rest is history. “I was walking through a park I grew up playing in. There were no benches or tables. When I found out it was to prevent the homeless from using them, I worried about the children that would also not have a place to enjoy the wonderful family memories I had enjoyed in the park,” Hill told Florida National News recently.
I met then-candidate Regina Hill back in 2014, but didn’t realize it at the time. I was launching “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” a domestic abuse awareness walk benefiting Harbor House of Central Florida. In the crowd of hundreds, on a hot day in June, one woman stood out in the walk: a retired disabled Navy veteran, who appeared alone. I recall meeting her briefly and knowing, just from her stance, she had a story to tell. We left that day and at the time I couldn’t even tell you her name.
Months later I received a phone call out of the blue from a lady named Regina Hill. She had left me a few messages which I hadn’t returned, but this time I picked up. “Hi, Randy. You don’t know or may not remember me, but my name is Regina Hill and I’m a candidate for Orlando City Council, but that’s not why I’m calling you,” she said.
I responded, “Ok, how can I help you?”
“I’ve come across a 96-year-old woman while knocking on doors, and Randy, she is living in horrible conditions,” Hill shared. “Can you help me help her?”
Now, horrible conditions to most of us might be floors that needed cleaned, backed up laundry with dishes all over the kitchen, but no–Mrs. Smith was living in truly deplorable conditions. She was taking a bath from a sink, her bathtub sunken in the floor. None of us knew for how long. There were termites that had eaten through the floor to her furniture. She had no way of truly caring for herself.
What occurred next was truly–as I’m sure the Commissioner will agree–one of our longest journeys in helping rebuild Mrs. Smith’s home from the ground up. Through that experience I learned how hard Commissioner Hill was willing to work for people she didn’t know.
Commissioner Hill represents Orlando District 5, one of the most economically challenged areas in Orlando. In this district is the area known as Paramore, where Commissioner Hill grew up. Drugs and crime plagued the area. She acknowledged that she’d gotten on the wrong side of things at times, but she knew deep within her she wanted to be more. She wanted to do more.
Hill’s Run for District 5 Commissioner
Hill was watching how her community changed as growth seemed to push residents further and further away from downtown. “I knew there were people losing their community and their voice. I wanted to give the silent a platform,” said Hill. So what did she do? Hill decided to take on a four-term establishment Commissioner Daisy Lynum. No easy task.
As you can imagine…the race became unpleasant at times. Lynum, while representing Parramore residents as Commissioner, held Hill’s past against her. In fact, a few months prior to the primary election, Lynum came out with a statement calling her competitors “thugs” and specifically referring to Hill as “people like her.” That changed everything, including the race’s trajectory. These characterizations sparked a grassroots effort the District had not seen in some time.
Regina Hill’s campaign caught the attention of her eventual campaign organizer-turned-FOX News commentator Tezlyn Figaro. “Regina was a populist candidate before it was popular. It was clear to me that people not just in Orlando, but all over the country desired someone to represent them that identified with their needs from a shared experience point of view as opposed to politics as usual type of candidate,” said Figaro. I and others soon teamed up with Figaro on her blog radio show to talk about the District 5 race and eventually people from all backgrounds and political affiliations began supporting Hill. We had all put aside the establishment rhetoric and decided everyone needed a 22nd chance.
Hill surprised many when she held off Lynum’s son, pulling him into a runoff election. At the celebration and watch party, I walked from table to table talking with the guests and a gentleman asked me, “So what do you think…can she win?” I said, “I believe she can, but I’m concerned about how they might use her past against her.” The gentleman, who prefers I not identify him said quickly, “Randy, you need to learn something about the black community. We’ve all either been touched by crime or know someone that has committed a crime. We know this…but, we don’t hold it against our community. We grow from it.”
Orange County Commissioner Mayra Uribe told FNN News, “Commissioner Hill is a strong and committed leader. She continues to show her strength and love of family, life and community every day through her tireless work in Orlando. These are the core values that unite Central Florida.”
Hill Dons the District 5 Mantle
Hill went on to win her first bid for City of Orlando Commission, unseating the expected winner and forging a new level of governing and transparency for her community. She brought attention and awareness to the real issues that were impacting her community using social media. She also recognized and learned to cross the aisle to work more closely with businessmen and women as well as the sports community to ensure the residents of her district were not forgotten. She’s managed to turn lemons into lemonade from a life most would not survive.
“Commissioner Hill is passionate about everything she is involved with: her family, her church, her community, her beloved Jones High School Tigers and, of course, our residents,” Mayor Buddy Dyer shared. “She works tirelessly on behalf of her constituents each and every day and is committed to making a positive impact in our city.”
A few years back, Commissioner Hill was hit the tragic loss of her daughter in Tallahassee, making her more than a grandmother to her beloved grandchild. She was a mom again.
No one can deny how powerful it was to see Mayor Dyer walk Commissioner Hill, during her daughter’s funeral, to her casket. “I consider him a friend,” Hill expressed. “He has been an wonderful partner in everything I have worked to accomplish for District 5.”
Despite the barbs that have come Commissioner Hill’s way, she as proven unflappable and unstoppable. Now in her 2nd term, what can we expect from her? Where will she go next? For now, it’s clear her focus is on the people she represents. One thing is sure: we’ll be hearing her name and learning of her legacy long into the future.
“Regina Hill doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk,” said political influencer Andrew Garafalo. “She shows up and gets the job done, regardless of the weather, political affiliation, or race.”
“I spend 70% of my time in my district. I probably work 65 hours a week on average. But remember, I started by simply walking through a park that no longer looked like it did when I was growing up,” said Hill. “I was at City Hall when it was imploded for a movie in the 80’s, that was it. And despite my fear…I went there to basically ask a simple question. I want the youth of District 5 to know they can do it too. I can be the change I seek.”
From former Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who went from neighborhood activist to commissioner to Mayor to now School Board Chairman, to a military veteran who simply remembered how wonderful it was to enjoy a park with friends and family, sometimes our motivations come from random events. In Commissioner Hill’s case, her steps have been ordered and she’s marching brilliantly.
Randy Ross is a radio host and Florida National News political contributor. | firstname.lastname@example.org