Florida Keys News
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
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Village racesnot drawing much interest

ISLAMORADA -- In less than two weeks, Islamorada voters will pick the winners of three contested Village Council races. But in this normally high-voltage political town, there are signs that the elections aren't generating the type of electricity they normally do.

"I'm not feeling the whole political atmosphere at all," said Mike Forster, whose Mangrove Mike's Café has long been a place where the Islamorada political set meets, greets and talks about local affairs.

"I don't know if it's apathy," added Forster, who has himself secured a seat on the next Village Council because no one else chose to run for it. "I don't know what you call it. But something's going on."

This year marks the first time that Village Council elections will be held in conjunction with the November general elections instead of in March.

The change, approved by the current council, was backed as one that would save the town money and also increase turnout.

But opponents of the change always worried that it would lead to village elections being obscured in a morass of national, state and other local races.

That, says Councilman Ted Blackburn, who faces hotel manager Todd Chandler in his re-election campaign, is exactly what is happening.

"I think there has been a real loss in the immediate interest in the Islamorada campaign," said Blackburn, who was the lone member of the council to oppose the new election date.

Sentiments from people such as Forster and Blackburn aside, expectations are still high that turnout on Nov. 6 -- driven by the presidential election -- will be greater than the 36 percent who voted in the 2010 village elections.

But at least one candidate, hotelier Paul Bates, says engagement among village voters is also on the rise after a slow start to the campaign.

"I'm very much expecting interest higher than normal," he said.

Yet there are indications that, so far, that hasn't happened. One, for example, came in advance of the Lower Matecumbe Key Association election forum held this past Tuesday. As part of the forum, the LMKA asks the community to submit questions, but this year that input was down, said LMKA board member Gordon Hadley, who has organized five such forums.

"I would have to say that I don't see the interest that I saw in previous races," he said.

A lack of fundraising activity could be viewed as another sign that this year's Islamorada elections aren't drawing much focus.

Of the three council races being contested, only candidates Dave Purdo and Travis Yednak, vying for Seat 2, had collected donations from more than a handful of people prior to the end of last reporting period, on Oct. 12.

In the other two races, featuring Mayor Ken Philipson versus Bates and Blackburn versus Chandler, the candidates have largely either failed to raise funds or chosen not to.

Some say it is the specific races themselves that are failing to engage village voters this year. Chandler is all but unknown in local political circles and has done next to no campaigning, while Bates has already made three losing runs for council.

"The only one that has gotten interesting is Yednak versus Purdo," said Dave Boerner, a former two-term Islamorada councilman.

Another possibility, said Hadley, is that Islamorada's issues just aren't as divisive this campaign cycle. The sewer system, long a central campaign battleground, is a decided issue now, with contractors set to begin work on election week. Meanwhile, no other highly-charged issue has filled the void.

But Boerner said there's no getting around the impact the new date has had on this year's Village Council campaigns.

"I think it got lost in the presidential election. It's way down the list," he said. "... There will be voters, but will they be involved voters in a municipal election?"

rsilk@keysnews.com

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