Jorge Fonseca, the chief administrative officer of Romero Medical Plaza, faces 3 opponents in the Southwest District race.
LAKELAND — The keys to building a brighter future for Lakeland's children are education and small business entrepreneurship, City Commission candidate Jorge Fonseca told his supporters at his campaign kickoff fundraiser Friday evening.
Fonseca, the chief administrative officer of Romero Medical Plaza, launched the campaign for the Southwest District seat with a private affair hosted by him and his wife, Mani Linamallu, in their Grasslands home.
The candidate will be hosting his first public event — a barbecue — at 11 a.m. June 10 at Peterson Park on June 10.
Three others are competing in the Nov. 7 election for the seat now held by Don Selvage: Larry Durrence, a retired Polk State College president; Michael Dunn, the owner of Vet's Surplus; and Pablo Sologaistoa, who until recently was a fundraiser for Anchor House Ministries and now works at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant. If none of the candidates wins a majority, the two top vote-getters will face each other in a runoff.
Selvage decided against seeking a third four-year term on the commission, guaranteeing three of the four commission seats up for grabs will change occupants.
Fonseca said it was time for Lakeland's government to take a more active role in education by working with the Polk County School Board to align resources and coordinate to improve educational outcomes.
"Our kids deserve better, that's why we're here today," he said in brief comments to his supports.
Also, the city should be focusing more efforts on helping small entrepreneurs — not the "same old group" that seems to reap the benefits of influence.
Many in attendance were small business owners, he said.
"You guys know how hard it is to get along," he told the group.
The city could encourage entrepreneurship by helping to navigate the process of starting a business and a small business loan program, he said.
Fonseca's platform is also connected to his identity as a successful, Hispanic business administrator, married to an Indian-American physician. About 14.5 percent of Lakeland's population is Hispanic, according to 2015 U.S. Census estimates.
Martha Santiago, the provost of the Polk State College Winter Haven campus who lives in the Winter Haven area, cannot vote in the Lakeland city election but attended the event to support the candidate.
"Diversity improves any kind of organization," Santiago said. "It shows different ways of thinking and a different way of solving problems."
She said she hopes her candidacy — she was the first Hispanic woman to run for Polk County Commission — and Fonseca's encourages other Hispanics to get engaged in their community's politics.
In addition to a diversity of cultural background, a diversity of experiences would help the City Commission better represent its residents, said Malay Shah, the CEO of Mulberry-based Rimage Solutions, an information technology firm.
Shah credits his friend with the growth of Romero Medical Plaza, which is planning an expansion into Hillsborough County.
"If someone is looking for diversity, there is no better person," Shah said.
Fonseca's leadership at Romero Medical Plaza has him dealing with issues of medical care, technology and business, he said, while being closely involved in the lives of some of Lakeland's most challenged residents including the poor and elderly.
Commissioners are paid $29,733 a year. While four of the six commissioners run in districts they are elected by voters citywide. The other two commissioners and the mayor may live anywhere in the city.
Christopher Guinn can be reached at Christopher.Guinn@theledger.com or 863-802-7592. Follow him on Twitter @CGuinnNews.