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Getting Personal

Recently re-elected Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla on getting into local politics, what she’s learned and how she’s coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

1. I moved to Central Florida in 1998. I have always lived in the city but my husband and I wanted to raise our family on a farm. We currently live on 6.3 acres in East Orange County and we are hoping to soon have a community farm.

2. I went into local politics after I discovered a large urban development of over 4,000 homes were proposed for the rural area where I live. Our commissioner at the time wasn’t listening to the people and there wasn’t anyone running who I could place my support behind so I entered the race. It was an important decision that I made with the support of my husband. I couldn’t do what I do without his and my children’s support.

3. In my first term in office, I learned that the small group of loud people really don’t speak for the majority and that it is important to do surveying, community meetings and focus groups to really discover what the true concerns and issues are of the majority. This insight has helped me filter through the noise to better hear the constituents who are honest about their concerns and issues.

4. Having won my re-election bid, I am looking forward to accomplishing the long-term projects that I began working on in my first term. These projects include flooding issues, clean drinking water and environmental protection from detrimental development. From the many community meetings and focus groups I conducted in my district during my first term, these emerged as the priority issues for my constituents.

5. I have a degree in film, English and internet marketing. Prior to becoming a commissioner, I had diverse work experiences in business, web development, theater and more. I have many technical skills that are self-taught. Before running for office, I also taught myself about the county’s land use regulations and legislation because I was fighting a development in my area.

6. A perfect day in Central Florida for me would be placing a hammock on a couple of trees on my property and reading a good book the whole day. I love to read and that is always a great day for me.

7. I met my husband in my sophomore year of high school. It took him several times to ask me to be his girlfriend before I said yes. We have had our ups and downs of course, and still do, but he is the best thing that has happened to me. Our 20th wedding anniversary is this December.

8. My most memorable vacation was with my husband when we were still dating. We went camping in the White Mountains and then white water rafting in Maine. Another memorable trip for me was visiting the rainforest in Puerto Rico with my family. Being out in nature and the beach are my favorite types of vacations.

9. I am an introvert so when coronavirus first hit Central Florida, I thought that a mandate to stay home was an introvert’s dream. However, it is still hard for introverts. I really haven’t socialized much since being elected in 2016 because I have been busy working for my office, but the little times that I did, I miss. Financially, my family is lucky because my husband and I both work essential jobs. We are both working at home and this has allowed us to help our youngest do his school work as he is now in virtual school. But it has been hard. Rituals or ways to cope for me have been to use a meal kit delivery service and to subscribe to a text therapy service. Both have really helped my marriage and my family bond more.

10. The pandemic has also kept my office busy with additional concerns and issues to handle for my constituents. I have had to work on making the office more efficient to adjust to the additional work so that my aides still keep the same level of work. I am still working on making the office more efficient, however once completed, this will provide more time for me to work on projects and legislative work that directly impacts the county and my constituents for the long term.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s November 2020 issue.