Commentary

The Big Story

Hometown PAC Blunders

By Rick Boettger
The usually sedate and convivial “Meet the Candidates” forum hosted by our Hometown Political Action Committee ended dramatically Monday with a seeming argument between Tony Yaniz and Hometown’s Todd German and Trish Doherty-Gibson…and a crescendo of “Boo!”s from Cates supporters.
Too many people for me to count filled Salute at Higgs Beach again, spilling out onto the surrounding walkway and beach. Dozens of candidates gave their two-minute speeches to polite applause, with only County Commissioner George Neugent rambling on so long that Hometown’s well-respected moderator, banker Todd German had to give him the hook, saying, “There’s always one we have to kick off the stage.”
With a multiplicity of wonderfully qualified candidates who all basically liked and respected each other, the evening was basically a feel-good party for Key West’s many political junkies (I know my people), with nothing said that anyone would remember. Until the end.
After Neugent challenger Danny Coll’s soft voice surprisingly got more applause than George’s, Todd German joked, “Thanks for coming. That’s it for the evening.” This was a joke because every political junkie who wasn’t there just for Salute’s fine free food was waiting for the big news of the evening: would Commissioner Tony Yaniz risk his secure seat for a run at Mayor Craig Cates’ job?
Well, we wouldn’t know until the two declared candidates spoke first. Craig gave a fine speech, powerfully listing the four major capital projects going forward on his watch, one of which, the Glynn Archer school-to-City Hall project, has been his legacy. He stopped in exactly two minutes, which I timed, because different commissioners getting different amounts of time to speak has been a bone of contention between Craig and Tony for a year.
Then blogger and perennial 5% candidate Sloan Bashinsky spoke next. His central platform is again a nude beach, and he joked about his having to be crazy to run (on his blog, he emphasizes that his political actions are controlled by his personal mostly malevolent “angels,” who are very, seriously real to him).
And here’s where the whole placid evening went Sloan-crazy, thank you Mr. Bashinsky. Todd riffed on Sloan’s comment by saying, “If you have to crazy to run, I can vouch for Sloan’s qualifications…..And I can say that because we are good friends.”
All innocent enough. Until Todd then asked, is there anyone else, who may want to test the waters, who wants to speak? Understand that this call to candidates clearly asked people who were unsure about running to come and speak, to get useful feedback about whether they had enough support to run.
Tony Yaniz had asked and had been told specifically that he did not have to declare to run to speak at this event. So he took Hometown PAC at their word, and decided to speak for two minutes. He came to the microphone, and, off the cuff, followed Sloan’s and Todd’s jokes about being crazy to run.
Tony said, “After listening to Sloan, if you have to be crazy to run, I’m not running.” From the middle of the beach crowd where I was, even with an excellent sound system, I just heard something garbled. Then, on stage, is where the funny crazy got real-life crazy. Hometown’s Trish Doherty-Gibson interrupted, “If you’re not running, you can’t speak!” Trish is the wife of Barry Gibson, the former holder of Tony’s seat, for whatever that might mean.
Todd, rarely flustered, then got what sounded from the cheap seats where I was into an argument with Tony. Todd upheld Trish, until Tony pointed out he was only speaking under the agreement that you did NOT have to declare to run, but were getting information about whether to, and, in fact, he was only joking, as Sloan and Todd himself had.
Todd recovered, got the point, and let Tony continue with what sounded like a normally-crafted stump speech, emphasizing his work on affordable housing, seniors, and youth. But the waters had been poisoned. It sounded like the publicly-contentious Yaniz had fought with calm-and-cool Todd German, realizing everyone’s view of him as reported by Cates’ main supporter, the Key West Citizen.
So Tony left the stage still receiving a bit more applause than Cates, but with a shameful chorus of boos clearly coming from Cates’ table in the center of the restaurant. And please, anyone with a cell phone showing others booing at this point, please come forward—I was there. The ever gracious Todd tried to make light of the donnybrook with a “Well, that went well.”
But it was, I believe, the sourest note ever sounded by our town’s respected political action committee. I have taken issue in the past with a few instances of severely biased questioning in some of their forums, but never had they blundered like this. They made sure at the end to tell Tony, the next forum will only be for declared candidates. This only reinforces that you did NOT have to be a declared candidate to speak at this one. So whether you got Tony’s joke about being Sloan-crazy or not, the get-off-the mic argument should never have happened.
Everyone makes mistakes. I wish we could give Hometown PAC and Todd German a mulligan and do this from the top.