Interview by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Damon Victor is an independent candidate running in the 2022 District 3 county commission election for Leon County. The incumbent is Rick Minor. Victor’s other opponent in Joey Lamar. In our recent local election guide we endorsed Victor, writing in part, “Not only does he have entrepreneurial experience of real value to governance, Victor has consistently highlighted the wealth inequities that have led to issues like no sidewalks for large sections of Tharpe Street. He has the life experience and integrity and knowledge to be a great commissioner.” (Full disclosure: We have contributed to Victor’s campaign.)
In this extensive interview, Victor gives voters a comprehensive idea of his experience, his background, and his plan to help District 3, which follows through on promises long made and broken to communities living along Tharpe Street (to give just one example). You can read more about Victor here.
The incumbent in your district claimed that you haven’t been active in the local community until you started this campaign. What is your response to that?
This campaign is largely possible because of all the meaningful relationships and partnerships built cooperating on important projects both internationally and locally. I don’t do any service work to gain attention. I’m grateful to continue to be in a position to have opportunities to make positive impacts in my community and around the world. Such a claim only reveals a lack of research or willful dishonesty.
This is your first time running for public office. Considering how difficult it is to run for office, raise funds, etc., why did you choose now to run? And why for the County Commission?
I’m sick and tired of people in Leon County being misled. From the beginning the incumbent was for funding $27 million to Doak Campbell stadium improvements. After seven months of ignoring public outcry, including my own, the incumbent changed his vote in an eleventh-hour reversal after I entered the race. But you know what’s five times worse than Doak? The Welaunee development. It’s located out of town in the faraway Northeast and is costing taxpayers $80 million for newly constructed roads and sidewalks. We taxpayers are on the hook for future liabilities and maintenance of infrastructure and roads, police, fire, schools. Four thousand seven hundred acres were added to our Urban Services Area, more than what was added to the USA in the previous 10 years combined. The incumbent voted for this expensive mega development to cut to the front of the line rather than long overdue projects in his own District—such as North Monroe Street corridor and West Tharpe Street. Folks ARE distrustful of the process and I am too! I We deserve someone who will be there to represent them with a strong commitment to the job and won’t bow down to special interests or the establishment. We deserve a voice on the County Commission who can speak up—not someone forced to repeatedly recuse themselves due to conflicts of interest.
You’re not originally from Tallahassee, yet this has been your home since you were a teenager. You’ve traveled extensively around the world, and come back home to Tallahassee. Can you tell us what it is about Tallahassee that makes it special for you?
I was born in Alaska, but I’m from Tallahassee. I’ve been here for 35 years with my wife Rory. We’ve been together 32 years and married for almost 26 of them. Like a lot of folks we moved here to go to school, fell in love, and made Leon County our home. We still live in the same home we bought 23 years ago in Parkside-Park Terrace here in District 3. It’s been a wonderful place to live for both of our families, with many extended family members living here now and through the years.
I apprenticed and learned my trade of Orthotics and Prosthetics here and have had my Orthotics and Prosthetics business, Victor Technologies, for 16 years. It’s also led to being included as a vendor for the FSU College of Medicine and FSU Research Foundation. Leon County is a special place to me because this community, the members of the music and art scene, held me accountable in the early teenage touch-and-go years. My Tallahassee family helped me to transform into the person I am today. Having opportunities to apply my vocation on international service trips helped me gain personal perspective and realize there are universal issues that affect us all. We must work together to solve those problems, no matter how tough they are.
What skills and experiences do you have that are essential to being a successful commissioner? What skills are you lacking? How does your experience set you apart from the other candidates in this race?
I’ve been very grateful to work in Orthotics & Prosthetics for 25 years. It’s a career of meaningful work. I’ve owned a small business, Victor Technologies, LLC in Leon County for 16 years successfully servicing thousands of patients in need of leg braces and artificial limbs. These are complicated mechanical devices that work intimately with the human body to regain mobility and change lives for the better. Affecting positive change in the world through targeted philanthropy and in conjunction with NGOs both locally and globally, I have partnered with organizations from South America, Central America, and Eastern Europe leading medical service trips and obtaining global and district grants to fund them. We operate under careful accounting to produce measurable outcomes and improve the quality of life for people across the globe.
One of the skills I’m lacking is the ability to end conversations with people I have a great connection and empathy towards. I know people want to be seen, heard, and valued. Sometimes I find it difficult to break off and head to the next appointment or meeting.
We often see candidates and incumbents talk about what the issues are (affordable housing, gun crime, poverty, etc) but identifying them is the easy part. What are the top 3 priorities for you in this race and how specifically would you address them? Please be definitive and unambiguous about your proposed solutions.
Many issues are overlapping because reducing poverty by increasing access to housing, healthcare, and education prevents crime . The most important thing I can do as a commissioner to address them is to call for the review of all projects, priorities, and appointments of the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency. Only from there can we elected officials have access to all the tools in our kit to invest in existing programs and enact new solutions such as:
- Increase the percentage of affordable housing required for a new development
- Embrace innovations in modular and mobile homes
- Form land trusts in Leon County in order to create new communities that people both want to live in and can actually afford
- Identify more areas and neighborhoods amenable to inclusionary zoning and ADUs
- Convert land set aside and required for parking lots to use build affordable housing and/or provide quality temporary homes
- Increase investments in facilities that educate students wishing to enter child care, healthcare, and trades to increase supply of labor pool for those sectors
- Form a credit union in Leon County and offer access to capital to residents historically unable to do so
How do you view responsible growth in this community? How does Tallahassee grow without destroying what makes it special and without leaving the most marginalized communities behind?
Responsible growth is balanced growth, and we are out of balance at this point. We’ve been brought to the brink with too many mega developments expanding our Urban Services Area. We shouldn’t prematurely expand the USA—we should be using the public dollars wisely. We must always be looking to improve and invest in our established neighborhoods upon existing infrastructure as well as those areas which are historically marginalized and ignored.
We can focus on projects of social uplift and neighborhood investment without allowing gentrification to drive folks out. One way to stem the tide of gentrification is by investments in the many resident-owned, minority-owned, women-owned small businesses that historically support and represent the culture of the neighborhood. They are why these areas are attractive for development in the first place. After gentrification and commercialization, it’s very often that vibrance and life is choked out of a neighborhood because it is only the people who bring a neighborhood to life!
Please share one of your most difficult challenges and how you faced it. What did you learn from this experience?
Well, leaving Alaska and my father behind and coming to Florida when I was 15 was challenging. Also breaking away from my friends in Tampa/St Pete and coming to Tallahassee with my Mom and family for a better future was challenging. So was battling cancer at 22. There have been many times in my life when I recognized I was at a crossroads: I can either keep doing what I’ve been doing and keep getting what I’ve been getting or I can make an effort to make a change to achieve new positive outcomes. Changing educational and career path as a young man, marrying the love of my life, advocating for rights of others, founding my own business, leading international service trips—all were challenging, all made me the person I am today. Today this campaign is a new challenge. I think it’s because I take it so seriously; but it challenges you in so many areas of your life. I’m a craftsman— a working class person with limited resources, and I believe the position requires a true spirit of service which is how I’ve lived my life.
Governing isn’t a one-person job. It requires collaboration and partnership. Who and what are some of the individuals and organizations you look forward to working with, why and how will you accomplish this?
I will accomplish this by continuing to do what has made me a successful candidate thus far: by staying true to my values. Usually, I’m met with skepticism by voters, and that’s understandable considering how the public has been misled over the years – but every time, almost without fail, by the end of a conversation, that voter and I are usually so bonded by sharing mutual friends and interests, I find common ground with anyone willing to talk to me. We all have to live together even after this election, my work won’t end regardless of the result—my commitment to the community is stronger than ever. I want to work with everyone! Fellow elected officials, appointed staff, county employees, journalists, the chambers of commerce, the college administrations, land owners, development companies, the school board, our state agencies headquartered here, Walt McNeil and the sheriff’s office—we are at the epicenter of education and expertise. My number one partnership will be with the public. I can’t wait to enhance and strengthen public collaboration with all those agencies.
If you are elected, how will you address working with those who have opposed you during this contentious campaign season? How will you find common ground to bring people together?
From day one of this campaign, I received an amazing outpouring of support—so many people from both parties begged me to re-register as a Democrat or Republican so they could support me more vocally without breaking their party rules. Yet, I received advice, endorsements, and donations from across the political spectrum—people want me to win! So, who has opposed me? I guess there have been some notable exceptions from the support—many of the incumbent’s signs are erected by well-known investors on their properties.
So how will I work with them? I cannot allow special interests to oppress people of Leon County through environmental racism and unfair and unaffordable housing practices through holding our blueprint sales tax dollars hostage for pet projects. It is my hope that we can come to agreements for a sustainable future for us all, so I will work cooperatively with anyone unless they take away tax dollars from those who need it and give it to those who don’t. Developers and construction companies are not bogeymen. Bogeymen are elected officials who allow rapacious profiteers to manipulate our political system and commit environmental crimes.
What is the one thing you want people to know about you?
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t want people to know about me. It’s all out there – from wayward teen to punk rock pirate to cancer survivor to doting husband. You have to be truthful about yourself to speak truth to power. It’s my story, and it’s all relevant… I’ve been very forthright on this campaign, making sure people understand my life’s journey so that you can feel confident as to who I am and where I’m going. I know who I am and I know what I want: to help people free themselves from hurtful situations rooted in bad public policy decisions made [by] for profit and not for people.