Aramis Ayala, candidate for State Attorney, shares why beating cancer at 24 made her into who she is today.
Aramis Ayala is running for Orange County State Attorney. Frustrated by what she calls problems, inefficiencies and bias in the current state attorney’s office, Ayala has run a hard campaign to unseat Jeff Ashton.
As an Assistant State Attorney (she has also been an Assistant Public Defender, a professor of law, and former Board Chair of the Orlando Citizens’ Police Review Board), Ayala saw the current State Attorney dismantle the Domestic Violence Unit and merge it with two other, different units. Ayala explains that domestic violence cases generally require more time and focus than other cases, so the new combined unit does not have focus the DVU had, and as a result is not capable of giving victims of domestic violence the care and attention they deserve.
As difficult as it was for her to accept the loss of the DVU, Ayala says that when the State Attorney eliminated the Centralized Intake Division, she became even more upset with what she perceived was a conscious decision to walk away from consistency and fairness in filing charges. Ayala says Central Intake used to be a place where several attorneys reviewed police reports and decided which cases would be filed. Now, as soon as an arrest is made, the case is handed over to a single attorney for review. This, she says, increases the likelihood that some defendants will be shown more leniency in charging than others.
These changes convinced her to resign from her position as an Assistant State Attorney and run for the top attorney’s seat.
Ayala recognizes the difficulty every challenger faces in running against a sitting office-holder. Incumbents enjoy a level of name recognition that every candidate hopes to acquire by campaign’s end. But Ayala is no stranger to adversity. Her tenacity is born out of personal struggle that she came to at the young age of 24. It surfaced in the form of cancer. This is her story.
“Cancer did not kill me, but it tried. At the tender age of 24, cancer changed my life forever. It helped to shape my mind, my focus and my commitment to a life of purpose and a destiny to serve. May 1999 was final exam period during my second year of law school.
“While studying for exams, I noticed swelling on the left side of my neck. A few weeks later I learned that the swelling was a deadly malignant tumor. The doctors diagnosed me with lymphoma- a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic symptom.
“The tumor grew so rapidly that within days of the initial diagnosis, I found myself in the hospital operating room for an emergency tracheotomy to prevent the tumor from suffocating me.
“The scar from this surgery remains quite visible today and serves as my personal reminder of how precious life is. Instead of moving on to complete my final year of law school, I spent the next year in and out of the hospital receiving chemotherapy treatments. In addition to the scar from the tracheotomy, I also have two very large scars from a bilateral hip replacement I endured in August, 2000 and January, 2001.
“Avascular necrosis was a painful side effect I had from the steroids I took in conjunction with the chemotherapy. Avascular necrosis caused the deterioration of my hip bones- leading to surgery and seemingly endless physical therapy appointments to learn to walk again. The hip replacements caused me to postpone the bar examination twice.
“Once on my feet, however, I did pass the bar examination and began practicing law as a criminal prosecutor.
“My experience with cancer solidified my commitment to use my education and experience to serve people. I realized service was not only a gift, it was my responsibility. I was given a second chance at life vowed to spend that opportunity creating a legacy of truth, integrity, and justice.
“Service requires more than just heart. It requires a sharp mind and intellectual capacity to be effective. It requires integrity and accountability. It requires leadership. Most importantly it requires a vision to see beyond your own self and for the greater good of others.
“A lifestyle of service goes far beyond a service job. Since surviving cancer, I have committed my life to service.
“I serve as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and a friend to many. I served as a mentor with the Paramore Kidz Zone. I have served in my church and countless community organizations as a member and President. I have worked service jobs, as an Assistant State Attorney and Assistant Public Defender. In those jobs,
“I enjoyed serving indirectly for the people. I am now prepared to serve the people directly with experience, skill, vision, integrity and a commitment to safety and justice.”
In a season of firsts– Hillary Clinton is the first woman to become a major party’s presidential nominee– Ayala could become the first African American State Attorney anywhere in the state of Florida. Maybe it’s time.
Beating cancer may not by itself prepare anyone for political office, but opening up one’s life up to others requires a commitment to transparency and a determination to face everything else that comes head on.
She has been open and honest with this publication about every detail of her life.These are qualities every candidate for State Attorney should have. Ayala has them, in spades.