The following article is a profile on Elijah Noel, candidate for Winter Park commissioner Seat Four. A profile on a candidate does not indicate The Sandspur’s or Rollins College’s endorsement.
Born in Orlando, Noel graduated from The Geneva School in Winter Park before attending Rollins between 2015 and 2020. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international business.
“[In my major], I had to do a lot of presenting and research, and that’s not too dissimilar from running for office here,” said Noel. “Articulation is something Rollins tremendously helped me with.”
When he was a Rollins student, Noel was a member of the basketball team and a work-study student in the Center for Career and Life Planning (CCLP).
“People all the time ask me why I got into politics,” Noel said. “[…] The same reason I got into politics is the same reason that you’re disgruntled or not happy with local government. That’s why I got into it: to fix that, to change that.”
Noel is endorsed by Student Government Association (SGA) President Daniel Elliott (‘23), who assists on Noel’s campaign staff. Elliott met Noel when Elliott was a freshman at Rollins.
“Elijah knows the needs of our school,” Elliott said. “He understands there is a very important three-way partnership in our community between the residents, the local businesses, and Rollins College itself.”
In terms of political experience, Noel interned at the Winter Park Mayor’s Office from 2019 to 2020, planning events and aiding the campaign of Mayor Steve Leary. In addition, Noel participated in US Representative Stephanie Murphy‘s and Florida Representative Anna Eskemani’s youth advisory boards. Noel has not had campaign experience prior to his current candidacy.
“[Campaigning] has been challenging but rewarding,” Noel said. “Pitching yourself […] can be overwhelming sometimes. But for the most part, I enjoy candidacy. I’m fighting for a cause that’s bigger than myself, and I draw strength from that.”
Noel is not alone in being a young political candidate from Rollins. Omar Sadek (‘23), political science major and Spanish minor, ran for Lake Mary city commissioner in 2020. His campaign team was exclusively staffed by Rollins students.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into running a grassroots campaign, especially one for city office,” Sadek said. “To start, you have to make sure you’re not only deeply embedded in the community, but that you also have the resources to kickstart the campaign.”
An independent candidate, Noel’s campaign platform is supported by three pillars: fiscal responsibility, connectivity, and supporting local businesses.
His pillar of connectivity refers to establishing bike paths and walkways that physically link parks and recreation centers to one another, to town hall, and to the west side.
Crucial to Noel’s connectivity pillar is the establishment of a youth advisory board, which would consist of Rollins student representatives and Winter Park High School representatives. The advisory board would serve as a consulting body to the City of Winter Park and speak on behalf of the city’s youth population. Nine percent of Winter Park’s population is aged between 18 to 24.
“Our commissioners are well above retirement age. Elijah would bring the average age of the commissioners a little bit closer to the average age of the actual city,” Elliott said.
“Involving the youth and opening that door of engagement is critical to building a better community. The youth are our leaders of tomorrow,” Noel said. He added that he would like to appoint younger officials to city commission boards to “give them a start in the world of politics and the world of community engagement, similar to the way I got my start here through our career and mentorship program at CCLP.”
Additionally, Noel’s goal to support local business includes bringing a Mexican-fusion restaurant, called ORO, to Park Avenue. He will serve as its managing partner when it opens later this year.
“That’s something I’m passionate about—bringing more profitable, more attractive businesses here to Winter Park that will build community,” Noel said.
According to Noel, the City of Winter Park lost 110 businesses due to COVID-19. It also lost 15 percent of total employment in 2020. Noel said he plans to attract more businesses by simplifying the bureaucratic red tape that prevents new businesses from moving to Winter Park.
“It shouldn’t be so challenging for new businesses to get to Winter Park,” Noel said. “It’s not conducive to our residents or our community.”
When asked about how he would advise students to get involved with their community, Noel emphasized the importance of giving, “whether it’s volunteering at the rec center here in Winter Park or handing food out to the homeless or giving out blankets.”
Noel said that he is grateful for several of his Rollins mentors, which include his adviser and Business Department Chair Dr. Timothy Pett, Director of Financial Aid Steve Booker, his basketball team, and several employees of CCLP.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘Be the change you want to see in your own community.’ That’s something I tried to live by through this campaign cycle and even before this campaign cycle,” Noel said.
Rollins students can find Noel at his restaurant on Park Avenue or at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, shooting hoops at the basketball court. He encourages students to vote in the upcoming election, which will occur in person on March 8.
“I feel passionately about my community, and I would like to see change enacted,” Noel said. “A win for me would be a win for us all.” Winter Park residents can find their local polling location here.