When the dust settled on the three Keys-wide, nonpartisan Monroe County School Board primary races being contested Tuesday night a little conventional wisdom seemed turned on its head.
All three contests featured an element of surprise and were won outright, meaning the results are final, and no runoffs will have to be held.
In the District 1 election, a relative newcomer, Bobby Highsmith, crushed early front-runner Stuart Kessler, a district insider, by 56.98 percent to 27.30 percent in a three-way contest, despite strong and open support for Kessler from District 3 member Ed Davidson.
In District 4, incumbent John Dick, widely seen as a shoo-in by district observers, barely beat back a challenge from a relative unknown, Catherine Bosworth, who has lived in the Keys for only two years.
He emerged from the race the winner with 51.25 percent of the vote to Bosworth's 48.75.
And in District 5 sitting board Chairman Ron Martin, who won several important endorsements during the campaign, finished first with 56.35 percent. In doing so, he triumphed over lifetime educator Dennis Caltagirone, who spent thousands of dollars of his own money on his campaign and attended a number of election events, and second-place finisher and hypnotherapist Richard Bradley, another relative newcomer to the Keys who refused to take part in forums held by such organizations as Hometown! PAC.
The new board members will be sworn in during an organizing meeting to be held the third Tuesday of November.
Highsmith defeats 2
District 1 winner Highsmith, a well-known Key West attorney and native son who beat Audit and Finance Committee volunteer Chairman Kessler, also delivered a blow to the political aspirations of neophyte Warren Leamard, a caterer who moved to the Keys from Jamaica as a teen.
In that race Highsmith, with his campaign manager Kimberley Denney, ran an upbeat campaign funded with a nearly $30,000 war chest. In contrast, closest rival Kessler raised about half that amount, but benefitted from an advertising campaign sponsored by Davidson that promised "drastic reform" from a new "gang of three" type voting bloc. The seat was an open one, having been vacated by current Vice Chair Robin Smith-Martin.
The defeat of Kessler, who has been thrown on the defensive for his "disbarred" lawyer status, is a blow to Davidson, who had been hoping for more like-minded voices on a board where he is often the sole "no" vote to the agenda of Superintendent Mark Porter's administration.
After being declared the winner at the Harvey Government Center in Key West, Highsmith pronounced himself "humbled, honored and excited" by the "really amazing experience" of the campaign. He thanked his rivals for a well-fought race, and even extended an olive branch to Davidson, who appeared somewhat stunned that his candidate had lost.
"I promise you ... you and I want the same thing," he told Davidson, and said that he was "looking forward to getting to work" on board business.
Highsmith's voice cracked slightly when he thanked Denney for running his campaign, as well as for her friendship and love.
For his part, Kessler said he felt he had done the best he could to push his reform platform, but that "obviously today the voters didn't think that was necessary. I guess this wasn't a year that this message was going to sell."
The final tally in District 1 at presstime was 7,037 for Highsmith, 3,371 for Kessler and 1,941 for Leamard.
Dick hangs on
District 4 board member Dick got the scare of his political life Tuesday, as early polls showed Bosworth actually pulling ahead of the veteran incumbent. By presstime, however, he had been declared the winner by 6,359 votes to 6,050 for Bosworth, who filed her paperwork to run for the seat in May and ran a low-key campaign.
"A win is a win," Dick said Tuesday evening, calling it "a good day for the school district."
"We're in a good place and getting better," he added, later admitting he was glad he wasn't going to have to wear his campaign shirt anymore.
Bosworth was not present at the Harvey Government Center.
Martin cruises to win
And in District 5, Chairman Martin, who raised just more than $6,000 for his campaign, retained his seat after winning a convincing victory -- with 6,605 votes -- over both Bradley, with 2,639, and Caltagirone with 2,478 votes.
Martin has been vocal in his support for Superintendent Porter and led the charge over the summer to renew the latter's contract two years ahead of time, raising the eyebrows of District's 3's Davidson, a Porter detractor.
In the end, Porter may end up the big winner of Tuesday's primary, emerging with more wriggle room to pursue his agenda without having a potential voting bloc to contend with.
"It says a lot," Martin said of his victory over his two rivals. "This school board has been through a lot" lately," he added.
In closing, Martin promised to "put the kids first and the teachers" as the board goes about its business.