Not surprisingly, cruise ships and COVID snagged more Key West headlines in 2021 than any other topics (surprise, surprise). But there was plenty of other news — good and bad — to fill the rest of the year’s 52 papers with local people, places, issues, events and opinions. 

The following is a month-by-month rundown of some of the top Key West headlines, events and issues from the past year. Digital versions of the stories referenced below are available at keysweekly.com.

Florida Keys seniors welcome the COVID vaccine when they arrive in January 2021. Keys Weekly file photo

JANUARY 

Remember when the new year was still in its infancy, and we expected to be looking back at COVID in 2021? That clearly didn’t happen. But the news did get better for a bit when vaccines and stimulus checks made their way to the Florida Keys. Of course, relief over vaccine availability for senior citizens quickly gave way to frustration with Florida’s inadequate online appointment portal.

Then Florida Sen. Jim Boyd filed a bill to void the island city’s voter-approved cruise ship reductions and so began Key West’s Great Cruise Ship Debate.

Also in January: 

Oxitec prepares to release its genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. CONTRIBUTED

FEBRUARY

By February, COVID vaccines were still being made available based on age and vulnerability. School buildings remained closed and Florida Keys parents were getting agitated, wanting to know if their kids could return to the classrooms before the summer break.

Also in February:

Key West singer/songwriter Nick Norman signs with Pump House Records label. BRITT MYERS/Keys Weekly

MARCH 

By springtime, Key West’s cruise ship debate continued to divide the island as Sen. Jim Boyd’s bill to overturn the city’s new ship limits looked likely to pass in the Florida Legislature, having survived three committee votes. Safer Cleaner Ships representatives, along with Mayor Teri Johnston, flew to Tallahassee in a private plane to oppose the bill and picket the governor’s mansion.

Meanwhile, back on the homefront, Key West welcomed college spring break visitors back to its beaches, boats and bars, and the city’s hugely popular bocce league was able to resume play with new COVID protocols in place.

Also in March:

Enhancements planned for Key West International Airport are scheduled for completion in late 2024. CONTRIBUTED

APRIL 

The city of Key West was in need of a new city manager by April, when then-City Manager Greg Veliz announced he would leave City Hall at the end of May to work for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority. City commissioners appointed Assistant City Manager Patti McLauchlin to serve as interim manager upon Veliz’s departure while they decided how to find a permanent replacement. 

Also in April: 

Poinciana Gardens assisted-living facility on Duck Avenue faced financial trouble in May 2021. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

MAY 

While Key West’s interim City Manager Patti McLauchlin settled into the big office at City Hall and took the (supposedly) temporary reins, the city commission hired a consultant to conduct a statewide or national search.

And here at the Key West Weekly, The Bubbas: Key West People’s Choice Awards returned with a vengeance and opened nominations for awards in more than 80 categories following a modified version in 2020 due to COVID restrictions and closures.

Also in May:

Patti McLauchlin becomes Key West’s first official female city manager. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

JUNE 

A few good things have come from the coronavirus pandemic, including Key West’s approval of outdoor dining at sidewalk cafes. After initial backlash from restaurants over the proposed fees that would have been the most expensive in the state, city management sat down with restaurant owners to devise a workable plan.

Also in June:

 

Radio personality Bill Hoebee (with Carolyn Guarini) narrowly defeats Key West Weekly Editor Mandy Miles for the Bubba Award for Best Local Celebrity. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

JULY

The Key West city commission on July 15 directed City Manager Patti McLauchlin to tell large cruise ships they’re not welcome in Key West. Mayor Teri Johnston and the Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships were adamant that the voter-approved limits should apply to all three port facilities despite City Attorney Shawn Smith’s repeated warnings about the legal ramifications of restricting private business and violating the city’s 27-year contract with Pier B, which pays the city 25% of its cruise ship revenues.

Meanwhile, 90 miles south of Key West, COVID concerns prompt rare public protests in Cuba that garnered widespread support from the Keys island chain and launched the #soscuba hashtag.

Also in July: 

Local veterans like Nick Hodge who served in Afghanistan shared their heartbreak during the United States’ withdrawal. CONTRIBUTED

AUGUST 

August 2021 saw the United States’ tragically inelegant withdrawal from Afghanistan as the extremist Taliban returned to power after 20 years of American protection and improvements in the country. The Keys Weekly spent time speaking with local veterans who had served in Afghanistan, many of whom were gravely concerned about their Afghan friends, drivers and translators who were left behind.

Also in August:

 

Key West’s chief building official held a hearing to determine whether Santa Clara Condominiums on Northside Drive in Key West are safe for habitation. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

SEPTEMBER 

In September, Key West shifted its attention, temporarily, from COVID and cruise ships to a condominium with structural concerns. Key West’s chief building official demanded proof that the Santa Clara Condominiums building was safe for habitation in light of significant structural concerns. The 110-unit building on Northside Drive received a reprieve from condemnation, but had to agree to submit a repair timeline and frequent updates from the building’s engineer.  

Also in September:

  • Keys Weekly reveals Florida’s voting laws fail to define any residency requirements.
  • Underwater 9/11 memorial installed on Vandenberg shipwreck off Key West 
  • 13 KWHS students chosen for NYC film festival 
  • 2 men arrested for alleged sexual assault on same woman in separate attacks
  • Key West passes 5.5% tax hike (budget does not include cruise ship attorney fees)
  • Governor appoints Holly Raschein to fill the late Mike Forster’s county commission seat
The nonprofit group Families Against Youth Violence dedicates several benches at Nelson English Park in Key West to victims of violence. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

OCTOBER 

Key West’s cruise ship conversation changed course a bit in October, when some elected officials started using words like compromise once the city learned that Safer Cleaner Ships’ preferred lawyer, Joe Jacquot, had a conflict and could not help represent the city. Commissioner Sam Kaufman suggested formal mediation among the main stakeholders, including Safer Cleaner Ships and private business interests, such as Pier B marina, the Key West Harbor pilots and Caribe Nautical ships’ agent. 

Also in October:

  • School district and state attorney warn that TikTok challenges will be aggressively prosecuted
  • Keys Weekly welcomes Alex Rickert as editor of the Marathon edition
  • Twisted Tinsel year-round Christmas store opens in The Shops at Mallory
  • Grieving parents dedicate park benches in Bahama Village to young lives lost to violence
  • Key West moves ahead with housing on College Road
  • Keys women share their breast cancer battles
  • Schools worry about truancy numbers in light of COVID
  • Casey Arnold releases Key West Monopoly game
  • Fantasy Fest returns, minus parade and other events
  • Traffic crash claims 2 lives: SUV driver kills woman on moped; then shoots himself 
The first two cruise ships since March 2020 returned to Key West on Nov. 27. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

NOVEMBER

November brought all manner of news to the island city — good, bad and bizarre.

On Nov. 27, two cruise ships visited Key West for the first time since March 2020, one at Mallory Pier, one at Pier B.  

And in a disconcerting legislative stunt, an unnamed Florida politician filed an anonymous bill to abolish the City of Key West and transfer all of its assets to Monroe County. (The proposed legislation has gone nowhere, but did set the city’s simmering pot of cruise ship contention to a rolling boil.)

On a lighter note, Key West Weekly’s fearless leader Britt Myers scored interviews with two of the hottest bands around, Black Pumas and Tedeschi Trucks Band, both of whom played sold-out concerts at local venues in November.

Key West Weekly Editor Mandy Miles introduced readers to VFC-111, Naval Air Station Key West’s resident fighter jet squadron whose pilots get to play the bad guys during training exercises. We saluted local veterans on Nov. 11, welcomed the powerboat races back to town and broke the news that the Spottswood family would buy the historic Curry Mansion from the Amsterdam family. 

Also in November: 

Safer Cleaner Ships organizes a protest to oppose the arrival of a cruise ship at Pier B that exceeded the size limits that voters approved, but that the state overturned. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

DECEMBER 

In more recent history, ‘twas the holiday season in Key West and all was merry and bright — provided one didn’t mention cruise ships, masks or national politics.

On Dec. 9, Safer Cleaner Ships organized a large demonstration on land and sea to oppose the arrival of a cruise ship at Pier B that exceeded the capacity limits that voters approved, but state lawmakers overturned.

Key West celebrated the long-awaited opening of the new Community Health Inc. (CHI) health care center in Bahama Village, and officials are currently encouraging local voters to support the Jan. 18 referendum that will allow affordable housing to be built at Truman Waterfront.

The Key West holiday parade made a spectacular return after COVID canceled the 2020 event. And a full calendar of holiday performances, tours, boat parades, tree lighting and Santa photos filled Key Westers’ dance cards.

Also in December:

  • Key West pays tribute to World AIDS Day
  • Friends and relatives honor the lost lives of 3 Key West icons: Cheryl Cates, Paul Worthington and Jon Allen. 
  • Black Pumas christen renewed Parade Grounds at Fort East Martello during COAST Is Clear Music & Arts Festival
  • “Pope of Trash” John Waters sits down with the Keys Weekly before his Christmas show at Key West Theater 
  • Deputies arrested for fighting with Navy sailors on Duval
  • Manuel Cabeza’s family thanks Key West 100 years after his death at the hands of the KKK

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.