Florida Keys News
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Voters to choose Utility Board member Tuesday
Campaign takes dirty twist on social media with Facebook postings

City voters on Tuesday will finish what they started in the October primary by electing a Utility Board member in a runoff between contractor Tim Root and photographer Vidal.

The race generated contention in the past week with Vidal accusing Root of misleading voters by calling himself a "general contractor."

Root is the CEO of Mingo Co. general contractors, but he isn't the Florida licensed general contractor at the firm. That position is covered by Domingo Castellanos, who has a clean, active license with the state that's good until August, according to state records.

But Vidal, who owns his own wedding planning business and goes by the single name, questioned Root's integrity.

Root calls the dig nonsense, citing the fact that he never claimed to be a licensed general contractor and that the "contractor" label is simply shorthand for builder.

Vidal has cited Florida statute on his Facebook page, while Root fired back on his own page with a "fact" list posted Thursday accusing Vidal of going back on their Oct. 1 agreement to run a clean campaign.

Root posted: "Fact: I have worked in the construction and building industry since I was 17 years old. Fact: Our company is fully licensed and insured."

Vidal followed suit, responding within a few hours with, "Fact: My opponent Tim Root is NOT a general contractor! Regardless of how many developers or people, paying back 'old favors' try to spin the truth.

FACT: A clean campaign STARTS and ENDS with THE TRUTH!"

State officials, however, said the law isn't about the use of the word "contractor," rather it serves to ensure only licensed people build homes.

"The term contractor is not a protected term in Florida so the simple use of the term contractor is not in and of itself a violation," said Tajiana Ancora-Brown, director of communications for the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation in an email Friday.

"It is the actual practice of contracting or representing oneself or your business as qualified to practice contracting that requires a certificate or registration under section 489, Part I, F.S."

The dust-up did prompt Root to say that Vidal isn't qualified to serve on the Utility Board.

"He is an excellent photographer," Root said. "I don't know how that qualifies him for the Utility Board."

Root cited his service on city-appointed volunteer boards, such as the Planning Board and Historic Architectural Review Commission.

Root, 58, is originally from Lancaster, Pa. He attended community college but traded school at age 17 for a union job helping build the shipyards in Philadelphia. His first job in Key West was as project manager for developer Pritam Singh's historic structures venture.

Vidal says he is the candidate who will represent the average rate payer.

A Conch, Vidal has Omar Garcia running his campaign, which emphasizes his Key West roots and his family's "150 years of firefighting" on the island.

Vidal makes a living these days with photo shoots and wedding coverage but he is widely known for female impersonations at cabaret shows as Angelica Duval.

His Twitter account includes a photo of him stretching near the beach while wearing a tiny swimsuit. Another one is a side-view, self-portrait of a near-naked Vidal, who prides himself on a near-perfect physique.

"I guess the notion that a political outsider just being available for you the voters must be shaking up the status quo in Key West politics," he posted on his campaign Facebook page.

Root captured 40 percent of the vote Oct. 1 in a three-candidate race that included the political debut of Cheryl Cates, a Realtor married to Key West Mayor Craig Cates.

Vidal came in second with 30.5 percent while Cates came in third with 29.3 percent.

Those results forced the only runoff of the city election, since a candidate needs 50 percent, plus one vote, to claim the office.

The Utility Board runoff is the sole race on Tuesday's Key West ballot. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting ended Saturday.

The Utility Board seat opened up when 17-year incumbent Lou Hernandez announced his retirement earlier this year.

The nonpartisan Utility Board has five members and sets policy for Keys Energy Services, a public utility.

Either Root or Vidal will win a three-year term, one year shorter than the regular tenure because the city is aligning its elections to coincide with statewide races.

The job pays $1,575 a month, or $1,875 a month if the member becomes chair.

Board members receive health insurance coverage as long as they remain in office but only for themselves. Dependents must pay 100 percent of insurance costs.


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