July 29, 2020

KEY LARGO — Two Republican candidates who are business owners and longtime elected officials square off for the District 5 seat on the Monroe County Commission in the Aug. 18 primary.

Islamorada Village Councilman Mike Forster and Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District Commissioner Robby Majeska are vying for the seat being vacated by Sylvia Murphy.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Jose Peixoto in November who is running with no party affiliation.

Majeska

Forster

Forster and Majeska have not exactly pitted themselves against each other but rather are running on their public service records and offer similar outlooks for their prospective home district of Key Largo and Tavernier.

Commissioners are elected by voters at-large and represent the entire county, but must reside within their respective districts, which means voters in those areas often look to their commissioner first to shepherd issues of local concern.

Both Forster and Majeska said that the biggest issue facing Key Largo is what they describe as disproportionate funding received from the county’s 1-cent infrastructure sales tax.

“We are putting in more in than we’re getting out,” Majeska said. “We had an independent financial audit in 2014 that showed Key Largo residents paid more tax revenue per capita than any other area [of unincorporated Monroe] and paid more for infrastructure such as sewer, roads and parks.”

Majeska said he’d like to see the development of Rowell’s Waterfront Park be completed during the District 5 seat’s next four-year term. The county purchased the passive park in 2013 for $5 million and, after using it to store vegetative and appliance debris after the 2017 Hurricane Irma, has done little more than propose amenities for improving the passive park.

“After six years, Rowell’s was budgeted $1 million and that was the first funding that was cut to cover the COVID-19 overtime pay ‘scandal,’” Majeska said in reference to special pay county staff and management collected during the first month of the coronavirus pandemic.

Roughly 490 employees, including senior managers, reported accruing 29,000 hours in special pay above their hourly and salaried wage in two pay periods for March, totaling $1.5 million in costs. At the Monroe County Commission’s April 15 meeting, the commissioners denied continuing the special pay.

Forster, too, said he’d like to see Rowell’s Waterfront Park be improved.

“I attended the parks and rec meetings on the park plans over the years. It needs to move forward. It’s just sitting there dormant,” he said. “The Upper Keys has always gotten the crumbs from the table. It’s sad to drive by there and see the disrepair to it.”

While both candidates said more truly affordable housing would help alleviate traffic congestion generated by commuters from the mainland, Forster said he supports installing a free ride-sharing program similar to what Islamorada offers.

“I’m an advocate for affordable housing in Key Largo and I also believe a Freebee-like program in Key Largo may help,” Forster said. “It would be self-sustaining and get rid of a lot of carbon footprint. Any traffic you take away from the highway would be great, and it makes sense in Key Largo.”

Traffic is a primary concern to Majeska as well.

“We are the gateway to the Keys and we have every single car coming through Key Largo. We now have rush-hour traffic,” he said. “It’s the people who work here but don’t live here that create this rush hour. Again, we don’t get enough funding for our infrastructure. We need to look at viable transportation options and make affordable housing more affordable and accessible.”

Regarding road-raising and other infrastructure projects to alleviate increasing tidal flooding in the Twin Lakes and Stillwright Point neighborhoods both candidates said funding should be a public/private partnership.

“There should be sharing of expenses split between federal, state, county and the affected property owners,” Majeska said. “A special assessment tax with a 10-year term with low to no interest rate for the homeowner is the fairest and best way. We need to get this project going now with boots on the ground.”

Forster said there needs to be skin in the game on both sides.

“I know [the property owners] feel abandoned and I know that they’ve paid a lot of taxes over the years, but we need to implement a taxing district, or a matching fund,” he said. “It’s going to take a partnership to address sea level rise.”

As to what makes Majeska the better candidate for the District 5 seat, he said, “Honesty and fiscal responsibility. I have no further political ambitions. I see a current opportunity to force us to reevaluate our policies and stop the overdevelopment of the Keys, particularly Key Largo. As someone who has lived and owned a business in Key Largo for 22 years, I know how to improve the area and make it the small hometown community I sought to live in years ago to raise my family.

“Both my opponent and I are passionate about our environment, but I have the proven fiscal accountability that we need. My opponent does not live and has not lived in Key Largo for more than 20 years, and I feel it’s disingenuous to lead the voters who may not realize that. I would be happy to support him as a commissioner if he ran for District 4,” which includes Islamorada and a portion of Marathon.

Majeska has served on the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment Board for 10 years and has owned a local pet shop for 22 years.

As for Forster, an Islamorada restaurant owner for 22 years, he said he has a passion to serve.

“I feel like I’m someone who can give value and make things happen. I live and breathe community involvement. I have been an elected official for 12 years [in Islamorada]. I have fostered relationships with fellow officials in other municipalities and agencies to be able to bring about change. There’s a lot of give and take in different situations and it takes partnerships to get things done.”

Forster lives “about two-tenths-of-a-mile out of the district” but owns a property in the Harry Harris neighborhood in Tavernier, where he would relocate to if elected.

“I’m not going to pander to anyone. I can’t make promises that I can’t fulfill. I’m telling you what’s in my heart,” he said.

Forster’s most recent campaign finance report shows $38,788 in his coffers while Majeska’s shows $12,278. NPA candidate Peixoto has $3,384 in campaign money.

The two Republican candidates will debate next during a virtual primary mixer hosted by the Upper Keys Business and Professional Women from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12.

tjava@keysnews.com