Florida Keys

Key West mayoral candidates promise housing solutions

Key West’s primary to elect its mayor and city commissioners is Aug. 28 and a runoff is very likely. If so, the top two finishers will face off in the Nov. 6 general election.
Key West’s primary to elect its mayor and city commissioners is Aug. 28 and a runoff is very likely. If so, the top two finishers will face off in the Nov. 6 general election. Sun Sentinel

Key West voters will select a new mayor for the first time in nine years, as Mayor Craig Cates is term-limited.

Seven candidates are campaigning to succeed him on an island where the most pressing issues start with a lack of workforce housing in a city that relies on tourism as its economic engine, and also include street conditions, traffic congestion and a parking crunch.

The primary is Aug. 28 and a runoff is very likely. If so, the top two finishers will face off in the Nov. 6 general election.

Three have dominated the campaign trail: Teri Johnston, the former city commissioner, George Bellenger, who owns Key West Eco Tours and retired minister Randy Becker.

Current City Commissioner Margaret Romero, who ran several times against Cates - who never lost a race and has been mayor since he defeated an incumbent in 2009 - is among the top three fundraisers, having sunk $6,500 of her own money into her campaign. But Johnston easily leads the pack with $82,000 raised and having spent more than $76,000.

Bellenger has raised $27,000 and spent about $16,000 while Romero has raised more than $9,500 and spent about $8,500.

Becker has raised about $8,200 - $5,000 of it his own money - and spent about $6,200.

Three candidates say housing is the city’s number one problem.

Johnston said, “Housing (whether rental or purchase), a livable wage and available child and health care. Housing: Right now all “new” development in Key West is required to provide 30% affordable housing. However, we do not require this same 30% affordable housing component when we ‘re-develop,’ which is about 95% of all of our development in Key West. This has been a gaping loophole for years that must be closed immediately.”

Becker said, “If we don’t have available, affordable housing for our workers, our seniors, our families, we can’t function as a community. We can use city owned land to leverage private development which will ensure the housing will be kept affordable forever. We can explore appropriate models of rent control/rent stabilization. We can create programs of recognition and support for landlords who provide affordable housing.”

Bellenger said, “Lack of affordable/workforce housing is the underlining crisis of our time. As mayor I would consider any and all housing initiatives. I would immediately host a round table with a seat for all interested parties including developers. I would insist on any future public/private partnership involving tax credits or free land be deeded affordable for the life of the project.”

Asked what Key West’s most pressing issue is, Romero said, “Unbridled greed. To stem this threat we must assure that government actions/approvals must have the facts known and easily available. “

She spelled out “facts” as an acronym: Financially responsible, Accountable to the public, Community oriented, Transparent and sensible, based on factual data not emotions or cronyism.”

Rounding out the list are Bill Foley, a ferry boat supervisor, and perennial candidates Sloan Bashinsky, a blogger who has been homeless in Key West, and Carie Noda, a former counselor who likes to proclaim herself “a Conch who grew up on Eaton Street.”

“What we’re going to go with is fiscal accountability [and] blowing up the Bubba system,” Foley said at a candidates event.

Bashinsky says God tells him to run for office and told one crowd, “Everybody knows Key West is an open-air insane asylum, you should make it official.”

The Key West mayoral race has seven candidates, including Sloan Bashinsky who says God wants him to run.

Early voting in Monroe County ends at 5 p.m. Saturday. In Key West, vote at the supervisor of elections office at 530 Whitehead St., no. 101

Key West mayors serve two-year terms and earn $22,499 a year plus benefits.

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City Commission races

Two city commissioner races will be settled Aug. 28. Attorney Greg Davila and Duval Street bar manager Jenn Stefanacci Doll are running for the District 4 seat.

“I am the epitome of the working class here,” Stefanacci Doll said. “I would say I’m a well-educated bartender.”

Davila has the endorsement of the man currently holding the seat, retired judge Richard Payne.

Davila said he wouldn’t support changes to height and density to develop affordable housing in the district while Stefanacci Doll said it would depend on the location and other aspects.

Mary Lou Hoover, a suicide awareness advocate who moved to Key West after a 35-year career in public works construction, is running against Wallace “Wally” Moore, transportation director for the Naval Air Station and a native Key Wester, for the District 5 seat left vacant by Romero choosing to run for mayor.

“If elected, I would sink my teeth into that one,” Hoover said of affordable housing, saying she would want to come up with a comprehensive plan. “I’m concerned about sea level rise particularly in District 5.”

Moore said, “We need to make it affordable for the developers to make affordable housing. Maybe there’s some restrictions we could ease.”

Commissioner Sam Kaufman has already been reelected to the District 2 seat since he was unopposed.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the city named a room after Mayor Craig Cates. That proposal was voted down.