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Florida mayor seeking 20th term at age 93 faces run-off election

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A 93-year-old Florida man believed to be the country's oldest mayor remains in the running after Tuesday's election for a record 20th term in office in a central Florida city where he faced opposition for the first time in over a decade.

Since no one in the four-way race won more than 50 percent of the vote, John Land, the mayor of Apopka, will face Joe Kilsheimer, a city commissioner and former newspaper reporter, in an April 8 runoff election.

Land has only lost one election over 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.

Kilsheimer led in Tuesday's election with 2,354 votes, or 48 percent of total votes cast to Land's 1,905 votes, of 38 percent of the total, according to unofficial election results.

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 said 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 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 Gray, Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Shumaker)

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