MARATHON -- The race for Marathon's City Council features a political newcomer who is critical of how the city is being run and two council veterans who are generally supportive of staying the course.
Cash Flow Jewelry and Pawn owner Mark Senmartin, backcountry fishing guide and two-term incumbent Richard Keating, and commercial fisherman Pete Worthington, a four-time former councilman, are battling it out for Keating's seat and a seat being vacated by Mayor Mike Cinque, who must step down due to term limits. The top two vote-getters will secure a place on the council.
Senmartin, 43, says Marathon is run by a bubba system that Keating and Worthington would perpetuate.
"They are absolutely running together. All their signs are in the same places," he said.
Keating and Worthington, however, say that while they are good friends, they're not running as ticket.
"I run my own campaign, Rich runs his own campaign," said Worthington, 57, who added that the two frequently disagreed when they sat on the dais together from 2009 to 2011.
Keating, 54, says Senmartin's talk about backroom deals has no factual basis.
"I think we constantly strive to be as open as possible," he said.
Even if none of the candidates are running as a team, on a gamut of issues Keating and Worthington agree, while Senmartin holds an opposing view.
Senmartin, for example, says his two biggest goals on the council are to replace Marathon's contracted attorney, John Herin, with an in-house attorney and to improve the communications between the city's management and the council.
Herin, Senmartin says, is in no position to advise the council on whether to engage in litigation because he's the one who gets the work when the council moves ahead with a suit. Marathon's legal fees have been running around $500,000 per year, he says.
"If you come into my jewelry store and ask me to advise you about buying a big old diamond, I'm going to say, 'Yeah, you should buy it,'" Senmartin said.
On the communications issue, he accuses City Manager Roger Hernstadt of sharing more information with some city council members than with others. The situation was especially obvious, Senmartin claims, at a recent council meeting where the Marathon City Hall project was discussed.
If elected, Senmartin said, he would gauge his support of Hernstadt based in part on the manager becoming equally open with all council members.
Worthington and Keating, however, support the present arrangement with Herin. At a recent political forum, Worthington noted that Herin's GrayRobinson law firm in Fort Lauderdale gives Marathon access to up to 50 attorneys at a reasonable rate. Keating jumped in as well, arguing that an in-house attorney would be too susceptible to pressure from local interests.
When it comes to Hernstadt, both men say he is an excellent manager.
"I can say that Roger is pretty much attentive to any council member who has questions and who comes to him for information," Worthington said.
Senmartin is also at odds with Keating and Worthington on Marathon's controversial liquor ordinance, which blocks new stores from opening within 1,500 feet of a school or an existing liquor store.
Worthington takes credit for the ordinance, which he helped pass, and Keating supports it.
"I've heard no complaints from people that they can't get liquor in Marathon," he said at a recent debate.
Senmartin, however, argues that the ordinance unnecessarily restricts competition.
"I just think it's a stupid law," he said. "It only benefits a small number of people."
One thing the three candidates agree upon is the need to help local businesses. But their ideas on how to accomplish that task differ.
Keating says making it easier for Marathon's small businesses to thrive would be his biggest goal in a third term. Promoting eco-tourism and improving the city's infrastructure will further those goals, he said.
Worthington said he wants to see vacant hotel properties back in business and vacant marina slips filled. One way to help that happen is to give the city a more appealing look, he said.
"I've been a strong supporter of some code enforcement in Marathon and of getting the commercial corridor cleaned up," Worthington said.
He suggested spending more money on beautification around U.S. 1.
Senmartin supports beautification as well. But he said the best way to help small businesses is to make permitting easier and to reduce onerous rules on matters like sign specifications.
"They make it harder for small businesses to survive," he said.
Worthington touted his experience when asked how he would deal better than his opponents with what he considers the town's biggest dilemma: wastewater funding.
"Lobbying efforts that I've done in the past, working relationships that I've had with different people at different levels around the state," he said.
Keating said, if re-elected, he'll keep Marathon on a similar course.
"I think we are absolutely going in the right direction," he said. "We have been able to accomplish quite a bit."
Senmartin, though, said he'll bring a new perspective to the council and will try to put an end to what he considers to be a pattern of council members voting in blocs.
"The whole dynamic has got to change," Senmartin said.
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 5. Council members serve two-year terms.