A new era for Sumter

Roberta Ulrich, left to right, Don Wiley, Andy Bilardello and Jeff Bogue won new Sumter County Commission terms.

Sumter voters on Tuesday rejected an attempt to oust two of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointees from the county commission and also voted in two newcomers who have deep backgrounds in public safety. Incumbents Roberta Ulrich and Don Wiley will continue to serve in Districts 1 and 5, respectively. Andy Bilardello, a retired police chief, defeated 16-year commissioner Doug Gilpin. And Jeff Bogue, an EMS director at Advent Health, will represent District 4, after incumbent Garry Breeden decided not to seek reelection.

The decision for Districts 1 and 5 sent a strong rebuke to the men behind a scandal that put those seats unexpectedly in play.

Districts 1 and 5 joined this year’s ballot after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended commissioners Gary Search and Oren Miller, from them respectively, in January on the heels of a felony perjury charge.

Voters blocked a run for the District 1 seat by Reed Panos, the man who orchestrated the Search-Miller campaign. Ulrich was appointed by DeSantis to that seat in March.

Ulrich, a former crypto-mathematician with the National Security Agency, has a long history in Republican politics including membership on the Sumter County Republican Executive Committee, secretary for the Florida Federation of Republican Women and co-founder and vice president of the local Republican Federated Women of Citrus and Sumter Counties.

“Voters in Sumter County are informed, educated and engaged, which is why they overwhelmingly chose me to continue to represent them on the Board of County Commissioners,” said Ulrich of her 57% to 43% victory. “Throughout this campaign, I have had the support of our great Gov. Ron DeSantis, and tonight’s result confirms the fact I also have the support of the residents of Sumter County. I am looking forward to working with the new board to bring about positive change and keep Sumter County first.”

Voters also affirmed Don Wiley for the District 5 seat to which DeSantis appointed him in June. Wiley had faced a challenge from Dan Myslakowski, who ran a failed campaign for the seat in 2020.

Wiley is a reitred Navy chief petty officer who served two tours teaching nuclear power plant operations before spending 20 years as an engineer and construction manager. He is the former chairman of the Project Wide Advisory Committee and Community Development District 10, and he owns a drone video company called Gold Wingnut Productions.

“I am honored that the residents of Sumter County have chosen me to continue in my seat as county commissioner,” Wiley said of his 55% to 45% win. “I am grateful for Gov. DeSantis initially appointing me to the commission. His trust, and the trust of the residents of Sumter County, will not be misplaced. My goal is now, as it always has been, to do what is best for all of Sumter County. We must now move forward with mending the divisions that have been cultivated in the last few months with the goal of continuing to make Sumter the best county to live and do business in.”

Ulrich and Wiley will retain those seats until 2024, when they will again be up for reelection after the terms originally held by Search and Miller end.

District 2 will now be represented by Andy Bilardello, an air force veteran, retired sheriff’s captain, police chief and public safety director who is a former CDD 12 supervisor and former president of The Villages Republican Club.

“The people have spoken, and they are ready for a change,” he said of his 56% to 44% victory. “I think they felt like 16 years for one person serving on the commission was enough. I look forward to representing all the people of Sumter County and being the people’s commissioner. I appreciate the vote of confidence, and I promise I’m not going to let the people down.”

Bogue won a three-way race for the District 4 seat, taking 41% of the vote against James Morris’ 31% and Sharyl Anderson’s 28%.

Bogue, an EMS director at Advent Health, is a former firefighter/paramedic and flight paramedic who served last year on a citizen committee to improve ambulance response time in Sumter.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of my supporters and the citizens of Sumter County for putting their trust in me as their representative,” Bogue said. “Thank you to the countless volunteers who came out to help us campaign.  It has been a long, challenging journey. I look forward to getting to work with the rest our commissioners to continue to improve our county. Thank you again for your trust and support, and God bless Sumter County.”

Because there are no Democratic challenges in the commission race, Tuesday’s winners will advance to the office upon the Nov. 8 general election.

“I think it’s very clear that Sumter County and The Villages is DeSantis country,” said Samantha Scott, Sumter County Republican Party chairperson. “We are behind our governor 100%. He made great decisions when he appointed our two commissioners, and the voters proved they are in full support of the governor and his agenda. We can’t wait to vote for him again in November.

Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or keith.pearlman@thevillagesmedia.com.