July 10, 2019

MARATHON — Two familiar faces and two new are among those pre-filing for the three open seats in the Marathon City Council election this November. The top two vote-getters will be elected.

Experience and fresh ideas are two factors that could differentiate the candidates. John Bartus, currently the mayor, and Dan Zieg, an incumbent, are to face Eugene Gilson and John Kissick, who failed last fall in a bid for a council seat.

The deadline to submit candidate petitions with the Monroe County Supervisor of Elections in lieu of a filing fee is July 9. The qualifying period is Aug. 6 to 13. Early voting is Oct. 21 to Nov. 1, and election day Nov. 5.

Gilson opted to be transferred to Marathon five years ago to manage the Bealls retail store. He said the transition from the Titusville/Cocoa Beach area to the Keys was initially difficult but he now feels fully integrated into the community. Bealls’ corporate policy enabled him to join the local chamber of commerce.

Among his first observations upon becoming manager was that Bealls’ local pay scale of about $9 an hour for salespeople was not where it needed to be in the Keys, he said.

“I’ve increased the pay rates,” Gilson said. He also worked with Bealls managers in Key West, Big Pine Key and Key Largo to effect change there as well. He works constantly on recruiting, such as with CareerSource to find employees.

“I really enjoy my associates,” Gilson said. “I’m running for them. I want to help improve affordable housing and pay.

“If I am elected to council, I’ll be the only one collecting a W-2 [employment form],” he added.

Gilson said he has spoken with the council and staff about affordable housing, and told them $2,500 a month for an “affordable” moderate-income category rental is anything but affordable.

As of last week, he was the only candidate with funds in his campaign account, collecting $100 from the Knutsons of Marathon and $200 from an aviation business owned by his sister.

Kissick, who operates a swimming pool business, has signs and other materials left over from his prior campaign, so he feels like he is ahead of the game. Just like last election, he said he offers “fresh ideas.”

“I’d like to make Marathon more family-friendly,” he said. “There’s not a lot of things for kids to do. I’d like to see an aquatic center be built, or at least a splash pad.”

He said his children have not participated much in the city’s parks and recreation offerings, thus far, but do plan to go to summer camp.

Kissick also said he supports affordable housing with rents that are truly affordable. He has created a campaign Facebook page for those who want to stay in touch.

Bartus, a local musician, has a long resume for his candidacy. He served on the first council for six years, after he was instrumental in the city’s incorporation movement. He served two more years when two council members stepped down due to job transfers, and most recently, he was elected in 2016 for three years. This is his third time as mayor.

“I love my community,” he said when asked why he is running. “It’s a way of giving back. People are still hurting from Hurricane Irma, The Federal Emergency Management Agency has given the city $400,000 out of our reimbursement requests submitted for $22 million. We are out $30 million due to Irma. The good news is the new regime in Tallahassee is moving forward.”

Bartus also plans to continue battling for assistance with the affordable housing crisis. A lawsuit against procuring additional affordable housing building permits has a court date in the fall, and the governor’s recent announcement for a $35 million allocation for affordable housing in the Keys came as great news, he said.

Like in 2016, Bartus will not seek campaign contributions. He says his supporters may instead write a check to a local charity.

“We’re a small town,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little name recognition and have worked with both sides of the aisle. The only thing that matters is what we can do for Marathon.”

Zieg, who was first elected to the council in 2014, is a retired orthopedic surgeon. Right now, he says he is involved in plans for the redevelopment of the 33rd Street neighborhood, which is surrounded by multiple local, county and federal agencies.

He recently questioned whether the city’s special magistrate system is appropriately resolving code infractions, and suggested some residents might prefer a return to a volunteer citizens’ code board that determines the outcome of such cases.

Zieg’s major goals include staying vigilant with the state to get Marathon’s much needed FEMA reimbursement money following Irma, and continuing to explore all options for housing workers can afford.

Among his accomplishments as a councilman, Zieg said he is proud of working with the council to expand affordable housing projects and revitalizing the first-time homebuyer program.