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93-year-old Florida mayor seeks re-election for 20th term in office

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A 93-year-old Florida man believed to be the country's oldest mayor was up for re-election on Tuesday, seeking a record 20th term in office in a central Florida city, where he faces opposition for the first time in more than a decade.

John Land, the mayor of Apopka, has only lost one election in the last 64 years. He was defeated in 1967 when he failed to overcome criticism he had served long enough as mayor after 18 years.

In this year's vote, the city's ban on most Sunday liquor sales has emerged as a key issue. Land's opponents want to lift the ban in line with surrounding municipalities while Land has said he wants to form a committee to study the issue.

Research by the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, which covers Apopka, indicated that Land is both the oldest U.S. mayor and Florida's longest-serving mayor. He has run for office unopposed since 2002.

"I'm not going to rest on my laurels," Land told Reuters late last year when he filed his candidate paperwork.

Land said Apopka's growth from an agricultural community into the second largest-city in Orange County after Orlando, with a population of 45,000, demonstrates the effectiveness of his leadership.

Land's strongest opponent in the nonpartisan race is Joe Kilsheimer, an Apopka city commissioner and former newspaper reporter, who argues the city has stagnated. Two other candidates are also running.

Unless one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election will take place on April 8.

Land first won office in 1949 after discharge from the Army following World War Two, when Apopka was a farming town of 2,254 people operating on a $31,000 budget. He oversaw the initial paving of local roads and the installation of the first sewer system.

Today, Apopka's budget tops $66 million. The city drew international attention in 2001 when a baseball team from Apopka played in the Little League World Series, losing 2-1 to a team from Tokyo before a crowd that included then-President George W. Bush.

Land's mayoral salary reached $153,000 annually in 2007 just as the recession hit. Starting in 2008, he waived his salary and started working for free, according to the city personnel office.

(Editing by Kevin Grayn and Steve Orlofsky)

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