It was the homestretch of 2016 Orange Osceola County State Attorney’s race. I caught up to Aramis Ayala outside of a Donna Brazile rally near downtown Orlando where she was campaigning for last minute votes.
“You going to win?” I asked.
“I feel good about where we’re at.” she said.
Ayala was running against an incumbent with very high name ID, who stayed in the spotlight for both the right and wrong reasons (and he’s still in elected office today) and no one was giving her a shot.
She won and it was the biggest upset in Orlando politics on that election night.
No one was sure what to expect from Ayala. The Orange Osceola State Attorney’s office has been described as a complicated and very political operation. There is constant turnover with attorneys leaving for bigger bucks in the private sector and a massive case workload.
Unfortunately, there was a much more emotional issue that would dominate the conversation surrounding the new state attorney.
Shortly after taking office, Ayala announced that she would not be seeking the death penalty against accused cop killer, Markeith Lloyd. And would not be seeking the death penalty in other cases as well.
The decision divided a community. There were angry people on both sides of the issue. Not confused. Not disappointed. These were angry people that couldn’t believe what was happening.
Law enforcement leaders disapproved of the decision (story HERE). They wanted justice for the two officers that gave their lives while trying to bring Lloyd to justice.
Ayala did have some support of her decision. An odd coalition of left leaning groups and some religious conservatives that oppose the death penalty. There were dueling protesters in front of the courthouse.
The fallout from her decision didn’t go away. Then Governor Rick Scott took cases away from Ayala, state lawmakers called for her resignation, and there is a regular television reminder of her decision each time there is a development in the Lloyd case.
To this day, the eye patch wearing defendant, smirking in front of television cameras and swearing at judges, is enough to make voters angry, regardless of where you fall on the death penalty issue.
And that anger would have stretched back to the incumbent top prosecutor in 2020.
In her announcement this morning, Ayala spoke with a conviction that I haven’t seen since she won her election. It’s because she believed what she was saying.
The decision Aramis Ayala made to not seek reelection is the right one. Her beliefs at this particular time, with this particular community don’t align.
Reelection would have been an uphill climb. Even though she’s made changes regarding her office’s handling of the death penalty (story HERE). Her opponents would have used her controversial decision against her and she probably would have lost.
Now , as she said in her video (link HERE), Ayala can continue to seek justice somewhere that doesn’t conflict with her views. She is still the first elected African-American State Attorney to serve in Florida and she still has almost half of her term left. There is a lot of time left to get things done that the whole community can get behind.
And the people of Orange and Osceola County can start yet another search (this will be the third straight election we’ll see a change in the office) for a State Attorney who will seek justice their way.