If anyone tells you one of the three candidates for Apalachicola mayor is a sure bet to win, you can trust they haven’t been following the race very carefully.
In what sure seems the most fiercely contested election for the city’s top spot in years, it now comes down to each candidate’s ground game, their ability to get their supporters to the polls, in the 10 days leading up to the balloting Sept. 3.
It all starts Saturday at 8:30 a.m. with the start of early voting at the supervisor of elections office at 47 Avenue F, that will run every day until 4:30 p.m. through. Saturday Aug. 31.
This Saturday is also the last day to request a vote by mail ballot be sent out, and it must be returned by end of Election Day.
All registered voters within the city limits can vote for the non-partisan, four-year job.
In the event one of the three receives a majority of the votes after ballots are counted just after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3, then the whole thing’s over and they can send out invitations to the inaugural ball.
But if no one gets a majority, and it would likely be called a landslide if either of the two women or the man did, then there is a runoff two weeks later, Sept. 17.
On that Tuesday, you have to show up at the Fort Coombs Armory, where all the Election Day balloting is conducted, in order to vote. There is no early voting or vote by mail for the runoff.
Now, if you have read this far in this story, you may well be muttering under your breath “That’s all well and good, but who are these people who are running for mayor?”
I will tell you already.
Beginning in alphabetical order by the last letter of their first name, Valentina Webb, 55, 255 11th Street, Kevin Begos, 61, 109 15th Street, and Amy Hersey, 38, 451 Morris Cannon Street, all want the job.
Those three letters in the alphabetical ordering also spell out the word “A-N-Y” and anyone can win. The question in the voter’s mind should be “Why should they win?”
The election got off to a loud starter’s pistol bang when Begos, a journalist with a distinguished resume, launched his candidacy with a detailed accounting for where he would make clearly targeted cuts. Such down-to-the-dollar detail is not frequently found in candidates’ pitches for this job. Begos said he made a clear accounting of his position because has covered enough campaigns in his career to know what he didn’t want to do if he was ever a candidate.
The positions Begos intends to seek to cut, including that of the city manager and a fulltime librarian, would save money, but it was not those specific salary amounts that attracted as much controversy as the precise amount of money the city owes the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in order for it to escape the crab trap of default, and resume swimming along an orderly path towards resolving its long-term multi-million dollar debt obligation.
Begos posted on Facebook that “some citizens believe the new City Manager has improved our finances” and then shared a post that indicated that based on his talks with DEP, the debt was about $806,000, and not under $700,000, after September’s payment, as Ron Nalley has repeatedly stated.
The difference between the two men’s take on the issue boils down to their interpration of how the state credits the payments towards the default; it is not a dispute over the volume of payments, several hundred thousand dollars, made this past year towards getting the city out of default. Nalley says Begos is being unfair and misleading; Begos insists he wanted only to get the facts straight, and points to a letter from DEP attesting to his number..
Hersey, who has been in unwavering attendance at city meetings for many months, and often with a Facebook Live post, did not let Begos’ postings go unnoticed, in a posting of her own called “A Half Truth is a Whole Lie!”
She described how the default debt works, and the effect its regular payments have on the principal and interest over the next seven years. “This doesn’t represent the total story,” Hersey wrote. “By saying we are still in default it looks as if we have not made payments which is not true.”
A former pre-K teacher at ABC School, Hersey has long been active in the school and community, but took a far deeper and detailed interest in city government under the guidance of Robin Vroegop, an outspoken gadfly to the current administration who first rang the alarm, to deaf ears, of the debt default. The candidate acknowledges that her friend’s manner can be abrasive, but she remains personally loyal while making clear the two do not and will not always agree.
Hersey has navigated middle ground on the city manager debate, not casting stones against Nalley but arguing his salary might not be affordable by the city, and that perhaps an administrator could be brought in at a lower rate.
Webb has emerged as Nalley’s defender, underscoring the matter as a campaign issue and crediting the city manager, who faces his annual review in the next few weeks, for making great strides.
“I think it’s frivolous for us to think we do not need a city manager,” she told the forum held by HCOLA at Holy Family earlier this month. “That is why we’re in the shape we’re in now. It’s absurd. He’s trained he’s certified, he went to school for that.”
Webb points to her own 30 years in corrections as teaching her the importance of experience in doing a job right. A former city commissioner, she now works for CareerSource Gulf Coast as a case manager, and has been active on a wealth of boards, from the library to Main Street, to Save Our Shotguns on behalf of affordable housing, to her own work with the Tabernacle of Faith ministry.
“Your own interests deserve a shepherd who knows the territory,” she wrote on her campaign material. “I know it well and I will act.”
The HCOLA forum, as well as the standing room only one put on a week later the Republican Executive Committee, showed that when it comes to the issue of selling off city property to help lower the debt, and of possibly using city-owned lots for affordable housing, the three candidates largely agree.
They have outlined a series of positions, and their personal qualifications, that are about as thorough as any that have been voiced in recent mayoral elections.
Both forums were impressively well-handled, with the Republican-sponsored forum conducted by county GOP chair Kristy Banks and her husband Brant, the civics teacher at ABC School. The two earlier asked the candidates to give them their top six issues, and then after they sorted and winnowed, Brant Banks directed the questions to them.
Begos is stressing his longstanding devotion to a high-profile local issue, one which up until recently was the paramount concern of citizens and government alike – the future of the seafood industry – noting that he once directed the county’s seafood task force, has fought the fed on banning Gulf oysters, and has hands-on experience working in Washington DC and covering the Florida legislature that he says will serve the city well under his leadership. In addition to working as a freelance journalist and author, he works parttime as lighthouse keeper of the St. George Island lighthouse.
He promises cutting spending, to control the growth of water bills, taxes and fees.
“We need new ideas and a mayor who listens to citizens,” Begos said. “I will respect local traditions and prepare us for the future. We’re at a crossroads. Will the other candidates deliver change?”
Hersey, who like Webb was born and raised in Apalachicola, is showcasing her active involvement in following the details of city government since the political bug her late father planted in her as a child took hold last years following the Denton Cove and water bill issues.
“I pledge to provide leadership that is not tainted by past blunders, and make a priority of finding ways to help the underrepresented among us,” she said., noting in her literature that she “supports our community businesses in addition to encouraging appropriate growth that will broaden our tax base.
“I will listen and respond effectively, with care and concern, to the needs of the people instead of the wants of a few,” she said. “And work towards our city’s core mission to provide for the health, safety and welfare of all its citizens.”
In her pitch to voters, Webb is not unlike the two others in pledging openness and transparency in government, although she does mention the challenges of climate change and the need to invite green industries into the city.
“We stand together, in conscious regard for one another, with the visible legacy of our rich tradition at our backs,” she wrote. “We will seek support as a designated "area of critical state concern" through representation in the Tallahassee legislative process.
“Those that seek to degrade us with self-serving profiteering will not succeed. Our land, our precious bay, and our diversity will be our strength,” Webb wrote. “We will work together, newcomers and natives alike, to preserve and enhance our heritage.”