When the former deputy sergeant announced his intention to run for office, the current sheriff fired him after 17 years of service.
KISSIMMEE, FLORIDA—Osceola County will have a Puerto Rican sheriff for the first time in history no matter who wins the vote.
Marco López, a former deputy sergeant, prevailed in the recent primaries as the Democratic nominee, defeating county Sheriff Russ Gibson and former Deputy Mike Fisher in the race. The Navy veteran was born to Puerto Rican parents in Chicago, who moved to Florida when he was a child.
López will compete for the sheriff’s chair against another Puerto Rican, Luis “Tony” Fernández, who is an independent candidate and retired deputy.
“I’m proud to be Puerto Rican,” López told The Americano. “They say there are Puerto Ricans even on the moon, and when I win in November, there will be a Puerto Rican sheriff in Osceola County—that’s historic. Central Florida has had a [Hispanic] chief of police, but not a sheriff, so this will be a great source of pride for me.”
This is the second time López runs for sheriff, after an unsuccessful attempt in 2016. His victory in the Democratic primary holds a special meaning for him, because when he decided to run for office this time around, he was fired .
The candidate had worked in the Sheriff’s Office for 17 years. He served in the US Navy for 20 years and owns a security service business.
“I started at 17 in the Navy. I did 22 years of service, and I went to the Iraq War. I am an anti-terrorism specialist. I spent my final days in the Navy Reserve. Later on, I owned several security-consulting businesses,” López said.
When the candidate announced his intention in May 2019 to run again for sheriff, his boss, the current Sheriff Russ Gibson, fired him.
“Gibson fired me, saying I don’t have a constitutional right to run against him, and that wasn’t true. Everyone has a constitutional right here in the United States,” López said.
The former deputy did not appeal Gibson’s decision in court, preferring instead to support his family with his veteran’s pension while focusing his efforts on the campaign.
“My options were to take him to court or get him out of the sheriff’s chair. With a lot of effort, a little money, a lot of work, and a lot of good volunteers, we got it. We knocked on the doors of 15,000 Osceola County citizens,” he said.
Now López is competing against Fernández, another Boricua. As sheriff, he wants to work equally for all of the communities in the county.
“I want to implement cultural and educational programs so everyone is adequately represented. We are going to employ more bilingual people, which is necessary. Right now, in the police department, 28% of employees are bilingual, while the Latin community represents 60% of the population,” López said.
In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, López says he intends to bring communities together.
“We can train our police force… so they understand different cultures and stop abusing our citizens. There are many things we can do to improve the relationship between the Police Department and the community,” López said.
For the veteran, community programs are an important part of educating citizens about the law.
“Many come [to Florida] with an idea of how the law works in Puerto Rico, but it is very different here. We must educate people so they understand the way we work—let them know what is legal and illegal. And let them know how our government agencies work,” López concluded.