Small-business owner Tony Vargas wants to be Orlando's next mayor
Orlando residents will be hitting the polls Tuesday, November 7 to for the city's mayoral election.
WMFE has been profiling the candidates, including small-business owner Tony Vargas.
Motivation to Run
Tony Vargas has lived in Orlando for 30 years working in the fitness industry. He is the owner of The Healthy Human, a personal training studio in Orlando.
About three years ago, Vargas experienced a health scare that he said changed his life.
"About three years ago, I got hit with a thyroid storm. My doctor made a clerical error (and) made a nine instead of a six.," he said, "So, I was taking way too much thyroid medication for over six months before they realize, 'hey, you're being destroyed by this medicine.'"
As a result, Vargas said he lost 40 pounds.
During his recovery, Vargas began to visit Stassio's Italian Deli and Market in Orlando's Market District, which is about an eight minute drive from his gym.
"This is where I decided that the rest of the city of Orlando needs to be doing what Stassio’s Deli is doing, which is bringing the people together, having fun, and talking," he said. "You walk downtown, right now, and people are looking down. They're in their screens. They got their headphones on. They're not relating whatsoever."
A better downtown is a main focus for Vargas.
Vargas said one of his top priorities is to revitalize downtown Orlando, as the city is often touted as the tourist capital of the world.
"But our tourists capital of the world should not have small businesses that have been decimated," said Vargas. "There's a moratorium on putting more restaurants and bars, right now, because of the crime, graffiti, gang violence and all of that. And that's in the tourist capital of the world. That can't happen."
Vargas blames Mayor Buddy Dyer for the current state of downtown.
He said Dyer has focused too much on the tourism industry, like the theme parks and other areas of Orlando.
However, Aubrey Jewett, political science professor at the University of Central Florida, said some critics think the opposite, that Mayor Dyer has put too much emphasis on the downtown area.
"But if you looked at his record over 20 years, he's also tried to focus on economic development throughout the city, trying to move the city of Orlando away from just only relying on tourism," said Jewett. "He’s had at least some success with that. And of course some of that is mixed with the downtown development, like the Creative Village and Downtown UCF."
Both Jewett and Vargas agree that downtowns are important to the health of a city.
Along with revamping downtown, Vargas said he also wants to address homelessness in the city.
That’s an issue Austin Sears, a freshman at UCF, would hope can get addressed by whoever wins.
"There are definitely a lot of homeless on the streets, though, which is kind of concerning. So it's, it's kind of disheartening," he said.
If Vargas wins the race for Orlando Mayor, he said he plans to hit the ground running.
One of the first things he plans to do is create a Downtown Development Authority more similar to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.
He said he’s already had a conversation with the mayor of Greenville, South Carolina, which is downtown he believes is successful.
"I'm going to be talking to more mayors. I'm going to be talking to other like-minded people that understand the situations of improving city centers," he said. "We're going to put a steering committee together. And we're going to get this done using models of other cities and using advice from other mayors that have done it."
Although Vargas doesn’t have any political experience, he said he’s motivated to win and prepared to do the heavy lifting to get the job done.