Key West election season begins at full throttle




The Key West campaign trail is a very busy place to be these days.

In addition to a likely new entrant to the overstuffed mayoral election, several other candidates kicked off their individual campaigns in the past week. Mayoral hopeful Teri Johnston had her first campaign event at Salute on April 4. Another mayoral contender, Cari Noda, made her first public appearance at a meeting of the Lower Keys/Key West Democrats, as did Greg Davila, who is running to replace Key West City Commissioner Richard Payne in District 4. Payne, after serving one term, is not running for reelection. Thus far, no one else has filed to run for the seat.

“That will make it very easy for you to support me,” joked Davila at the event, held at the Coral City Elks Club in Key West on April 9.

Noda, who said she is homeless but by her own choice, introduced a campaign platform with three primary planks: affordable housing, school security upgrades, and keeping the ocean clean. On the housing issue, Noda, who ran for mayor in in 2011, advocated that the city stop issuing transient licenses for housing rentals of 30 days or less. However, the 1,018 transient housing licenses available in Key West have all been assigned and city officials have not publicly discussed increasing that number.

“We don’t have homeless people if you have housing,” Noda said. “We have to make sure we don’t turn any more of our local, really big, beautiful Conch houses into daily rentals. If you don’t give them a permit, that’s how it starts.”

The burgeoning list of mayoral candidates in Key West appears likely to grow by at least one more. Former Key West City Commissioner Mark Rossi, owner of Rick’s Entertainment Complex on Duval Street that houses eight bars, said he will make an announcement this week about his rumored candidacy. But on the telephone last week, he certainly sounded like an entrant.

“I can tell you honestly I will come out with a platform. It will be very simple. You’ll love it,” he said adding, “It will be for the affordability of our residents and their quality of life.”

Rossi, who served as city commissioner from 2005 to 2015, including a stint a vice-mayor, said he is a board member on the Key West Chamber of Commerce and the Key West Military Affairs Committee. He is also past president of Navy League Key West Council.

“I am keenly aware of what it takes to run the city of Key West,” almost-candidate Rossi said.

Another former Key West Commissioner, Teri Johnston, literally kicked off her campaign for mayor when she was giving her inaugural stump speech on the beach in front of Salute and a volleyball rolled in front of her from a nearby game. Kicking it back easily, Johnston thanked Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers for introducing her, thereby emphasizing Johnston’s experience at both the city and county levels. Johnston is currently a member of the Monroe County Planning Commission.

“In 2018, it is time to elect a quality, experienced, professional mayor of Key West. I believe I am that woman,” Johnston told her supporters.

Upcoming campaign opening events include that of George Bellenger, who is one of now 11 candidates who have filed candidacy papers with the Monroe County Elections office. Key West City Commissioner Margaret Romero has announced her intention to run for mayor but has not filed papers yet.

Bellenger hopes to combine work and fun at his campaign kick-off, which will be held Saturday, April 21, at 7 pm upstairs at The Waterfront Brewery, 201 William St. Bellenger plans to have a band, plus the normal campaign speeches. The event is open to the public.

Bellenger, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Key West in 2001, is owner of Key West Eco Tours and a 30-year resident of the city. He said he is running because of concerns about the changing quality of life for residents, including soaring housing costs and the increasing difficulty of balancing the needs of the tourism industry with the needs of the people who live here year-round. He said the mayor is “the face of Key West” and needs to develop processes that are positive, unifying and receptive.”

“The mayor has to be able to know how to bring people together, work through debates and come to a solution on the other side,” said Bellenger, who is a member of the Key West Attractions Association, environmental group Last Stand, the Key West Lodging Association and the Key West Business Guild.  

The other candidates who have filed papers to run for mayor are Sloan Bashinsky, Randy Becker, Rick Brown, Bill Foley, Bob Goodreau, Danny Hughes, Mitchell Jones and Darrin Smith.