Key West voters may select two City Commission representatives next month, with two candidates seeking the District III seat and three running in District VI. 

The nonpartisan races would be decided in the August primary if one candidate in each district race receives one vote more than 50% of those cast. If no one receives the required majority vote, the race will go to a November runoff. 

City commission candidates must live in the city district they want to serve and are only elected by voters in that district. All Key West voters elect the mayor, who does not represent an individual district.

Business owner Kimball Ingram is challenging incumbent Commissioner Billy Wardlow in District III, which encompasses the New Town neighborhoods around Kennedy and Northside drives, South Roosevelt Boulevard near the airport and the golf course neighborhood.

On the other end of the island, District VI includes much of Old Town, including parts of Duval Street, the Bahama Village neighborhood and the area surrounding Key West cemetery. 

Incumbent District VI Commissioner Clayton Lopez is facing challengers Ryan Barnett and John Wilson Smith. 

Key West is facing unprecedented economic challenges associated with the coronavirus and associated business closures. In addition to the pandemic, the island has grown divided over the cruise ship referendums that will appear on the November ballot.

The Keys Weekly asked each candidate to answer the following four questions in 100 words or less (answers appear as submitted):

  1. How will you vote on the cruise ship referendums, and why? 
  2. How do you envision Key West’s economic recovery from the coronavirus? 
  3. How should Duval Street look and operate? 
  4. What would you do to close the widening “us vs. them” gap among Key West’s residents? 

Name: Kimball Ingram

Age: 50

Current job: Owner Aquaholics Charters and Aqua Nightclub

How many years have you lived in Key West: 25+ years

  1. I will vote in favor of the referendum prioritizing environmental records for cruise ships. Key West’s main draw is its relationship with nature. Anything that preserves that relationship is a good thing. I am voting against the limited size and limits on daily disembarkation referendums. I don’t disagree with the intent but think in each case the restrictions are akin to a ban. Better to work on limiting total numbers per annum and knowing there is actually a demand from smaller ships to come before we destroy a whole market supporting numerous businesses.
  1. Although the hotels will remain, rates will take a hit and therefore the tax revenue will be less. Bars and restaurants are being scapegoated and their struggles are compounded by the city and state blaming hospitality for the continued COVID crisis. I believe the city will have to decrease the size of departments across the board and will need to be creative in reinventing how they work with business in the future. Key West will recover but will need to become much better at being efficient and consistent in their demands of what they ask from local businesses.
  1. It should be far more pedestrian and cycle friendly with greater walking area and fewer cars. Shops and restaurants should be able to work with the outdoor space allowing for sidewalk dining and greater opportunity to distance while wandering the Duval Corridor. Parklettes and green space should be introduced where possible and parking should be pushed to garages with transport to downtown or allocated space elsewhere.
  1.  I’d first figure out what is meant by us and them. Key West v. Miami? Rich v. Poor?  The first step is defining a problem in less broad terms. I’m open to having a conversation. We live at the end of the road, which is always a strange place. Plus, we are living through pandemic hell where reasonable people can become Facebook warriors at the slightest breeze. One human family doesn’t mean we all get along; it does mean we all accept that we are all unique and should be appreciated for that which we bring to our community.

Name: Billy Wardlow

Age: 65

Current job: Retired Firefighter/ City Commissioner

How many years have you lived in Key West: 65

  1. Everyone’s vote is a personal right. However, I would like to see limited, safe and healthy cruise ships come into Key West.
  2. The city has gone above and beyond in trying to control the spread of COVID-19. This has been a worldwide pandemic and hopefully runs its course, but the recovery will be a city/countywide effort. The vision I would like to see is involving the residents and visitors together to help in bringing business back into all of Key West. The downtown business area would also greatly improve by including the locals’ participation, not just the visitors’.
  3. The city ordinance states that all property owners and landlords are responsible for the maintenance/appearance of their storefront area to the curb line. The revitalization process should add improvements to the Duval Street corridor.
  4. There should not be a “us vs.them” mentality in Key West.  We should all be working together to close the gap.

John Wilson Smith

Age: 62

Born and raised in Key West, moved to Sarasota for awhile, returned to Key West in 2010 and have been permanently living in Key West since June 2020.

  1. My vote for the referendum will be yes because it reimagines a clear path to a better way for our island to manage environmental concerns regarding our marine ecosystems and suggests a better way for our city to control the number of people that leave the ship so that our economic and environmental resources will not be “overrun.”  Additionally, the referendum will create a way for local government to “prioritize cruise ships with better environmental and public health records” so that there are no health threats to our citizens.
  2.  I very much support the scientific community (CDC) guidelines outlined to our country’s citizens in February.  Everyone must wear masks, social distance, etc. The country must open up slowly. If our local government will stick to those guidelines, all citizens cooperating, I envision Key West recovering economically, if we keep our infection and death numbers low, but, also, schools will reopen, and all other components of our society, though slowly. We’ll have a new beginning reimagining a new society.  We shall have a “new birth” with the end being “One Human Family,” not elitist driven, but driven by all.
  3. First, Duval Street should be open only to pedestrians, Front to United streets, outdoor sidewalk seating for restaurants and bars, European style. Secondly, great efforts should be made to include more local participation, perhaps, with special discounts and incentives offered during certain times of the week. Duval Street should be local friendly and not just “tourist driven.” Thirdly, the mayor should appoint a task force to assess this issue using, for example, a community survey, and tasked with producing a Plan of Action. It should be inclusive of an intergenerationally diverse group of people, and other community leaders.
  4. Working with the mayor and city officials and staff, first, we should survey the broader community to discover their thoughts around this issue and ask for their suggestions for an appointed intergenerational and diverse leadership team that will recruit members from the arts community, local businesses, the college, foundations, among others, to review the survey results and use them as a starting point to reimagine and envision solutions. This team of people must send a clear message to the community about our island’s diversity. Its goal must be one of inclusivity and diversity for all.  We are  “One Human Family.”

Clayton L. Lopez 

Age: 66 

Occupation: Retired DOH Monroe early intervention consultant

How long have you lived in Key West: 63 years (born and raised)

  1. I will support the referendum. Repositioning this island as a top tier port starts

with setting the best example. The wellbeing of visitors, locals, and the environment are not mutually exclusive. Smaller ships mean less ecological turmoil: the diminished destruction of aquatic ecosystems and reduced carbon footprints. Smaller ships will also mitigate explosive foot traffic on the heels of this pandemic. I am not anti-cruise ships. I am FOR safer and physically smaller ships. In the past when lobbyists wanted to set our priorities, I said no. Our

waters. Our reef.

  1. Our idea of “normal” is gone. Take it slow. Believe the science and data. Absent a national economic plan, we have to be our own leaders in developing a recovery. We must work with municipalities, DOH, stakeholders, and county government to financially buoy unemployed residents while investing in healthcare and COVID- 19 related infrastructure. We might be able to revisit mandatory restrictions and eventually eliminate some, which could springboard our economy. But, not yet. I believe that cautions learned through this pandemic will linger, as they should.   
  1. We have seen so many variations of what Duval should look like. We need a compromise that considers the infrastructural challenges of Duval including its narrow streets and sidewalks. Here’s my idea: Let’s incentivize the storefront owners to encourage the promoting of mom and pop stores, start-ups, and entrepreneurial opportunities for first time business owners mimicking a first-time homeowner’s program. We must market Duval as bike and pedestrian-friendly and reduce vehicular traffic by making parking outside of the area more readily available. Enforce delivery ordinances.  Require smaller trucks on our small streets.    
  1. We must continue building affordable housing for the working class. We have conceptualized the Bahama Village extension, consisting of mixed income housing, benefitting low income families as the United Way ALICE study demonstrates. We talk about attracting professionals.  Yet, we offer little encouragement for them to stay. This has to change. Studies have shown the benefit of mixed income communities. In Key West, there is so much diversity. We HAVE to welcome ideas and cultures different than our own. I have built my life around that concept. I will continue to work harder to shrink that gap.

Ryan Barnett 

Occupation: Chiropractor; owner of Key West Chiropractic

  1.  I am the only candidate that has signed all three petitions to place these referenda on the ballot. I will be voting YES on all three referenda in November. As citizens we have a rare opportunity to control the narrative instead of being overrun by the large corporate interests of the cruise ship industry. If we don’t stand firm for our waters, our island, our public health, and our future, then we are allowing outside corporate interests to determine our fate.

2.) The current business environment in Key West is unbearable. I’m a small business owner, from a family of small business owners. Our small businesses need a larger voice in the city’s policy-making process. And I don’t mean the same four or five big business owners that have been calling the shots for the past thirty years. I will make it easier for our local mom and pop businesses to present their needs and expectations to city government. Small businesses in Key West will thrive again, but we need the City of Key West to prioritize and expedite re-opening.

3.) Social distancing will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The more space we create between people to move around freely, the more attractive Duval Street. Let’s close Duval to vehicular traffic on specific evenings. Restaurateurs need more outdoor dining space to make up for the loss of indoor dining. For specific evenings each week, let’s present a “Car-Free Duval” allowing café-style seating and promote safe, enjoyable outdoor public interaction.

4.) This is a very challenging question. Happy locals make for happy tourists, which make for happy businesses. It’s a never-ending balancing act that, in recent years, this has become far out of balance. Cost of housing and lack of opportunity for career advancement and upward mobility are the most pressing gap drivers. My campaign is focused on realistic affordable housing programs. But, we also need to forge long-term public-private partnerships between the city, NGO’s and local businesses to add some diversity to our local economy by providing career training and long-term mentoring in sectors beyond tourism.

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