by James Coulter
Mary Richardson has lived in the city of Dundee for 43 years, where she has pastored a church in Haines City for 15 years, opened her own business, and volunteered her time through community service.
She later ran for public office and was elected for City Commissioner Seat 4 in April 2020. She has since been elected to serve as the city’s vice mayor, making her the first female African American commissioner to hold the title.
Through her position, she has bult bridges between the community and its government. She aspires to help provide affordable housing, infrastructure, and economic growth. She also wants to educate residents about civics through “Dundee on the Ridge Community Academy”, a free monthly academy session hosted every third Wednesday at PCSO Substation 135 East Main Street, Dundee.
We recently sat down with Vice Mayor Richardson to ask her a few questions about her background, qualifications, and career. Here is what she had to say:
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
A: I have lived in the town of Dundee for 43 years. I am a very strong resident; Dundee is a very quiet place. You can hear the birds sing. I pastor a church in Haines City for 15 years. I [suffered] 24 years of drugs and alcohol, [and] I had 24 years in the judicial system. After I gave my life to the Lord (February 14, 1993, Valentine’s Day), things began to change. I started my own business once I turned around: Inspirations by Mary T Shirts & More. My days and nights are committed to help others become overcomers.
Q: What is this free academy you provide every month?
A: Dundee on the Ridge Community Academy. Sessions are held the third Wednesday of the month. My goal is to educate the residents on government and its structures. Many people don’t know how the government works and because of their lack of knowledge it can sometimes bring on frustration. I believe once they become educated, it can cause crime rate to decrease, improve social conditions, equip, and empower individuals and families with wisdom and knowledge to produce a better quality of life.
Q: What are your qualifications for public office? What makes you a good public official?
A: I have a great amount of influence in my community and with the people. Since being in public office I have built bridges between local government and the community, establishing relationships, and getting residents actively involved and their voices to be heard concerning
issues they may have in the community. I have encountered some people that have the perspective that government is against them and that is not always the case. Government is a form of protection when the laws are followed and respected. I have learned that the lack of knowledge is not an excuse for not following the code of conduct. My mandate is to help bring understanding.
Q: How else have you been involved in the local community?
A: I’m involved with the library. I serve as the liaison. I am out and about with boots on the ground, I came in running with zeal and passion, getting the word out informing the residents of services and activities we offer. I am involved with the Ridge League of Cities. They host monthly meetings along with a dinner networking with local municipalities, keeping us informed on trainings, education and encouraging local involvement in our communities. I am also involved with the Florida League of Cities. I serve on the policy committee that create policies that affect our residents and municipalities. I am active in certain trainings learning about my position as a Vice Mayor and a commissioner. I was recently afforded the opportunity to sit with the Florida’s House Representative Sam Killebrew for District 48 which serves my region, and I learned a lot on how to be more effective in serving the residents and the community.
Q: What inspired you to go into public office?
A: I’ve always had a love for people. It is a natural gift. People in my community would often contact me with concerns that they were having with town hall, code enforcement, etc. And I was that voice for them, speaking on their behalf. They for some reason thought I was a liaison. I have always been an advocate. I had no idea I was being groomed to become an elected official. I started attending the town meetings that were held twice monthly on Tuesday nights although it was my Bible study nights, I would carve out time for those meetings. I wanted to be a greater influence in my city. I was sometimes given the opportunity to do the invocation. I started getting invites from other municipalities nearby to come in and give the invocations. I would sit in on their meetings. I was encouraged throughout the community to run for a seat and when the opportunity became available, fearing my history would hinder me, I muster up the courage to pick up the qualifying candidate package, I received the required signatures needed to get on the ballot from my community. My name was place on the ballot as a candidate I won the race by a landslide. It was my time. It was a historical moment for me and the town of Dundee. It was the rest of the story.
Q: To what do you owe your success?
A: I would say tenacity, influence, a love for all people. I had a dream one night that I was a philanthropist; a person who donates to charity. My contribution was to give my time, and continued involvement to the residents and community. People don’t care how much you know the want to know how much you care.
Q: What are your goals as a politician?
A: I would like to see affordable housing, infrastructure, growth and development, and more businesses added to our town. It will bring more jobs and opportunities and increase the economy. I desire to learn more about laws which provide protection to us as citizens and protects from abuse from organizations even the government itself at times. I am very interested to grow in politics. I will pursue the necessary trainings and take advantage of the necessary resources that are available to achieve my goals causing me to be a more effective elected official to help the people. With growth and developments rapidly happening it is bound to have impact on the laws, it would help me keep my finger on the pulse for what is happening in local, state and even national levels of government.
Q: What are your overall expectations?
A: I am very, honored and it is a privileged to embrace this predestined moment. I realized more each day as I involve myself, I was chosen for this moment. It was part of my purpose and destiny, it was ordained by God. I have uniquely been chosen for this office. I am excited to be here. I will give it best. I am 66 years in age. Once upon a time, that age would have been a factor that would hinder my opportunity to advance in politics, but I am not going to allow that to hinder me once re-election occurs again. The people voted for because they trusted me, to be their voice and representation, it can happen again. I am not a mediocre person. I want to be an example of an elected official, not only in title, but accompanied with works and action, faith without works is dead. I want my works to speak for me.