Key West Mayor / Salary: $22,500/year

The Key West mayor’s race includes two familiar faces — incumbent mayor and former city commissioner Teri Johnston, who is seeking a second two-year term as mayor, and former city commissioner Margaret Romero, a government watchdog who attends nearly every commission meeting.

The Keys Weekly asked the two mayoral candidates the following three questions:

  1. Knowing what you know now, and based on current results, what, if anything, should the city / city commission have done differently with Key West’s cruise ship debate, particularly as it pertains to the privately owned Pier B? What, if any, compromises would you have proposed or supported two years ago, prior to the November 2020 referendums? 
  1. The Key West community, like the country, has become sharply divided — politically, financially and philosophically. What factors have contributed to the divide, and what will you do as mayor to unite this community?
  1. Vacation rentals and investment properties are becoming the rule rather than the exception in the Key West real estate market. As Florida’s election laws do not define legal residency, the owners of such properties can and often do vote here while living elsewhere for most, if not all, of the year.  How does this trend affect people’s decision-making power and priorities in Key West? Would you support a 6-month residency requirement for voters, as is required for Homestead exemptions and other matters? 

Teri Johnston
Occupation: Key West mayor, co-owner of Affiliated Design & Construction Managers
Age: 71

1. Prior to the cruise ship referendum vote, I, along with senior staff members met numerous times with the industry to discuss possible solutions. Without exception, the industry requested that the referendum and the upcoming vote be canceled. We explained that this referendum, no matter what side of it you supported, was democracy at its finest.

 The vote on all three ballot initiatives garnered what Florida defines as a “supermajority” win. Ultimately, a compromise was achieved for our voters on both sides of this issue with only one of three piers docking cruise ships.

2. While there are issues that we have differing solutions to, I don’t see Key West as “sharply divided.” During the 2020 COVID election cycle, 59.5% of our residents voted for community balance, progress, environmental stewardship and economic opportunities. And that was in a three-person race! That is not a “sharply divided” community. This is a community that’s growing together during challenging times in our country. I will continue to lead with transparency and equality by reaching out to our entire community, soliciting input and ideas from our bright, engaged citizenry.

3. I’m not sure that data supports that assumption. The commission does not determine Florida residency and no state requires a six-month residency to vote. Taking away the right to vote is unconstitutional. U.S. history includes a time when voting required land ownership. Similarly, blacks and women could not vote.

While vacation rentals and investment properties have changed our long-term rental housing availability, this is a licensing and enforcement issue rather than categorizing who gets to call Key West home. We’re either inclusive or we’re not. We all have a responsibility to showcase Key West as our inclusive community. 

Margaret Romero
Age: 71
Occupation: retired IBM executive consultant

  1. I would have had the originators: a.) Clearly define the problem they sought to solve; 

b.) Articulate justification for their numbers of limited passengers and disembarkations; c.) Specify their requirements for determining a ship to be safer/cleaner; d.) Understand the existing contract between the City and Pier B owners; e.) Unemotionally present their view why the three items were synergetic. 

(There appears to be no industry standards/studies tying a safer, cleaner ship to the number of passengers/disembarkations.) All stakeholders would then be brought together to discuss possible options which would not negatively affect the community.

  1. Subjective view of what has contributed to the divide:

a. Entitlement and greed
b. Lack of transparency
c. Poor and unclear communication
d. Too much hype, not enough facts
e. Not looking out for the community as a whole
f. Favoring splintered factions

As mayor I will:

a. Think community first!
b. Listen well and communicate clearly.
c. Find solutions, not fault.
d. Work to restore City Hall and community trust.
e. Lead by example.
f. Gather facts, evaluate, and decide with reason, not emotion.
g. Work to bring back community values.
h. Serve with integrity, professionalism and respect.

  1. Florida does not have a defined residency requirement for voting, which appears to provide an environment where deception of residency is enabled. While many clamor for “local control” rather than state or federal guidelines/rules, there is much disagreement between what constitutes a “local” for voting purposes. Why should someone have say or “vote” if they only spend a minority of their time here? Clear requirements should be set and monitored closely. I want my one vote to count and not be watered down. How about you? What do you think defines a “local?”

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