For the first time in 140 years, a Black person was elected to the Orange City Council.
Alisa “Lisa” Stafford’s election is not the only historic element of the newly formed City Council. With the re-election of Kelli Marks, and the elections of Stafford, Fran Darms and Casandra Jones to the seven-member council, Orange City now has four women simultaneously on the council, possibly forming a female majority to make decisions about city laws, policies, taxation and spending.
Stafford, who ran against incumbent Jeff Allebach in 2007 and lost, said the time was ripe for a rematch.
“At that time, the voices of the people weren’t being heard,” Stafford said. “And that’s the exact same reason I ran again.”
Stafford, an eighth-generation Orange City citizen, won the District 5 race with 387 votes to 361, a difference of 26 votes. The four-year term has an annual salary of about $12,001.
Orange City is unique, Stafford said.
“Orange City has a hometown feel. It’s: If my child hurts, the whole city hurts. If my child is in trouble, the whole city is in trouble,” Stafford said. “There’s a lot of pride here. … No matter what your color, if you’re from Orange City, you’re part of the family.”
Stafford’s father, Sam Stafford Jr., was a big part of the community, she said, and helped instill the values she carries today.
“Everyone respected him, because he respected them,” Stafford said. “He told me, doing things for your community is your birthright.”
Among many other roles, Sam Stafford Jr. was president of Orange City Community Interaction Inc., a civic group that ran several programs in the community, including one that provided employment opportunities for 16- to 23-year-olds to improve local public land.
More than one of his children has taken up the community-service mantle. Sharon Stafford, Lisa’s sister, runs the Orange City African American Heritage Festival and serves as chair of the Volusia Remembers Coalition.
Lisa Stafford lives on Clark Street, on property that has been owned by her family for generations. On a recent Sunday, she pointed to the orange tree planted by her mother years ago.
“They say these are the sweetest oranges,” Stafford said, before inviting this reporter to come pick some when they ripen.
“I welcome everyone,” Stafford said. “Anybody can approach me.”
Stafford has been retired since the early 2000s. She was a full-time caregiver to her mother, who passed seven years ago.
She abandoned a life of travel to run for the City Council seat, although she was reluctant at first.
“I’ll never forget — June 4, 2022, my pastor said ‘God told me to tell y’all — do what you can, while you can,’” Stafford said.
She relies on her family, and God, Stafford said. After she was sworn in to her elected office Nov. 29, to a standing ovation, Stafford invited friends and family to come up for a picture. Dozens of people surrounded her, including seven generations of Staffords.
“It’s time for us to do something; let us all be one. All seven seats should represent all of the city,” Stafford said. “We need to make the best decision for all — and to let people’s voices be heard.”
To that end, Stafford plans to hold town-hall meetings, and hopes to broker conversations between businesses and residents.
“It’s OK to disagree,” Stafford said. “I believe in compromise, to reunite this city.”
As for her historic moment, Stafford said, “It was time to put that footstep down, for those who will walk after.”