Kent Guinn will remain Ocala’s mayor after Tuesday’s election.
The incumbent of about 10 years beat his opponent, Manal Fakhoury, with 65.91% of the 9,857 votes cast.
“I genuinely care about the people that I serve,” Guinn said. “That’s why you do this job, if you’re doing this job for any other reason than that, then you shouldn’t be an elected official.”
Guinn’s platform prioritized public safety, maintaining a strong local economy and ensuring a government that works for its people.
He helped create Open Arms Village in 2015 to assist homeless men with shelter and support services to help them attain employment, acquire housing and have funds in their bank account. The program has an 85% success rate, and he said the next step is offering these services to women.
Guinn and the council will continue to invest in a major crimes task force and implement a new training program in the police department
“We don’t want to change the direction we’re headed,” he said. “People want to come to a safe community.”
Guinn’s opponent, Fakhoury, would have been Ocala’s first female mayor.
Fakhoury sought to increase public safety, tackle homelessness and bring resources, like healthy, accessible food items, to West Ocala.
After living in Ocala for 35 years and serving in nonprofit and community service around the city, Fakhoury was ready to run. She said she first had to thicken her skin as people claimed she wasn’t “white enough” or “American enough.”
“There’s a group that I’ll never be their candidate, no matter what I do,” she said.
Fakhoury said she ran a campaign powered by positivity so she could be proud regardless of the outcome.
Her supporters were eager for a potential change. Kim Sandstrom, an Ocala resident since 2005, met Fakhoury when they worked on a United Way project in 2007.
Sandstrom said she wanted fresh leadership to address issues like the opioid crisis.
Opioid-related suspected overdose cases rose about 700% from 2017 to 2018, according to the WellFlorida Council.
“We’ve lost the best and the brightest in this community,” Sandstrom said.
An Ocala amnesty program implemented in 2018 gives people with drug addictions the opportunity to seek treatment from a police officer without facing charges.
Sandstrom doesn’t believe the efforts are enough.
“We haven’t had reconciliatory leadership,” she said. “This community needs to be healed.”
Beit Hallel Messianic Congregation Rabbi Mark Rantz, who endorsed Guinn, said shifting leadership for the sake of change isn’t necessary when Guinn’s proven to be a man of the people.
“He practices what he preaches,” he said. “He’s the real deal.”
In the five years he’s lived in Ocala, Rantz said he’s seen new homes and complexes erupt across Ocala, which attracts people to the city.
“There needs to be somebody in the mayoral office that has a vision for business and growth and for families,” he said.
Voters could also cast votes for four city council seats in Tuesday’s election. The final Canvassing Board must certify the results before they are official.