Florida Keys

Johnston headed for runoff in Key West mayoral race, but a recount needed for her opponent


Former city commissioner Teri Johnston is headed for a Nov. 6 runoff in the Key West mayoral race, but her opponent will be determined by a mandatory recount held Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Johnston led the pack with 49 percent of the vote. But the next two vote-getters were separated by only 28 votes, or less than a half percentage point, requiring the recount.

Margaret Romero won 21.5 percent of the vote with 1,338 votes— 28 votes ahead of George Bellenger’s 1,310 votes, or 20.81 percent of the vote.

There were seven candidates running in the nonpartisan race Tuesday.

Because the difference between Romero and Bellenger is under a half-percentage point, a mandatory recount will be held Wednesday.

romero, margaret.jpg

Johnston, a contractor and former two-term city commissioner, soared over the other candidates in a race she has spent $80,000 on so far.

“It’s going to be a really good race — an issue-oriented race and a really good race for the city of Key West,” Johnston said after the results came in. Her take was 3,077 votes.

This is Romero’s fourth try for the mayor’s office. The retired IBM executive consultant and only Key West native in this year’s race won public office in 2015 for the first time when she captured an open city commissioner seat — the one formerly held by Johnston, who stepped down after two terms.

“We’re going to really step it up,” Romero said of her campaign. Romero has spent nearly $9,000 and won 1,338 votes. “The differences are going to start to show when we get much deeper into the details.”

Bellenger, who owns Key West Eco Tours, raised nearly $30,000 and spent about $18,000 on the race, his first major political bid. He won 1,310 votes.

bellenger, george.jpeg

To win outright in the primary, a candidate must collect 50 percent of the vote plus one vote.

That turned out to be impossible Tuesday, with seven campaigns splitting the votes.

Randy Becker came in fourth with 417 votes. Bill Foley came in fifth with 55 votes, while Sloan Bashinsky got 50 and Carie Noda secured 48. Both had run for mayor before but this was Foley’s political debut.

Key West hasn’t had a new mayor in nine years, since Mayor Craig Cates won his first bid in 2009, defeating an incumbent. Cates, who never lost a race, was term-limited. He said Tuesday night he will run for the county commission in 2020.

In Key West, mayors serve two-year terms and earn an annual salary of $22,499.

Two city commission races were settled Tuesday.

davila, gregry.jpg

Attorney Gregory Davila defeated Jenn Stefanacci Doll with 79 percent of the vote for the District 4 seat, which came open with the retirement of former judge Richard Payne, who endorsed Davila.

The District 5 race winner was Mary Lou Hoover with 65 percent of the vote over Key West native Wally Moore. That seat became vacant when Margaret Romero decided to run for mayor.

City commissioners serve four-year terms and earn an annual salary of $20,000.

“Change is good; the residents of Key West are looking for some improvements in our community,” Johnston said. “A brand new commission that has a lot of energy and ideas is going to be good for the city.”

In the race for Key West Utility Board, seat D, Robert Barrios and Beth Ramsay-Vickrey will meet in a runoff Nov. 6. Barrios took 39 percent while Ramsay-Vickrey took 25.51. Walter Drabinski took 23 percent.

In the seat A race, the incumbent since 2004 , Mona Clark, easily beat Jim Marquardt, 59 to 41.

Utility board members earn $20,683 per year and get paid health insurance as long as they remain on the board.