Mallory Square is an underused piece of waterfront property. City officials want to make it more useful and relevant for residents and visitors. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Key West’s leadership is facing huge changes in the upcoming elections, potentially losing four of its seven elected officials.

Three city commissioners — Clayton Lopez, Jimmy Weekley and Billy Wardlow — cannot seek reelection due to term limits. Mayor Teri Johnston has decided not to run for her final term. And Commissioner Sam Kaufman has said he plans to resign his commission seat this summer in order to run for mayor against former tax collector DeeDee Henriquez, who began campaigning last year.

“It’s a big one,” Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover told the Keys Weekly on Feb. 20, referring to the upcoming election and the changes it will prompt. “We’ll get a lot of new faces, and it will be interesting to see.”

Hoover and Commissioner Lissette Cuervo Carey are the only two commissioners who will remain in place through the coming election.

Meanwhile, city leaders are moving full steam ahead on three sweeping and costly renovation projects — Duval Street revitalization, Mallory Square master plan and Bayview Park renovations.

But with the faces of leadership changing in the coming months, the Keys Weekly asked city officials whether the new lawmakers could decide to reprioritize or pump the brakes on one or more of the projects.

Johnston said she doesn’t think so.

“All three of those projects are citizen-driven, so it would be unusual that anyone attempting to be elected would not support the community’s priorities,” Johnston said. “Duval Street is probably the most complex with an extensive resiliency component underground and a cosmetic upgrade above ground. This was ranked #1 by 70% of our residents (in the city’s Strategic Plan).”

Cuervo Carey, one of the two commissioners who will remain in place on the dais after the election, offered the following:

“I would prioritize the 3 major projects as follows:

  1. Bayview Park. This is a park for the residents. While tourists may also enjoy it, it primarily serves the people who live in our community. I ran on a platform that included a concept of not just affordable housing, but affordable living. We need to keep activities and recreation that are free to all residents of all ages in the best condition. This is a simple one for me. We have had many public workshops, conducted surveys and gathered a lot of public input. The consensus is to not change too much of what is at the park. Make it better quality, add a few new features including a splash pad, better security/more police presence, keep it clean and safe for everyone, and provide nice natural open spaces and quality recreation equipment for park visitors. I also like the idea of an indoor community center or space similar to Bernstein Park for residents to use for events such as birthday parties and community meetings.
  2. Duval Street.  I’m pleased to hear most people don’t want to see much change to our historic Duval Street. The popular opinion I have heard is to clean it up, fix sidewalks, paint curbs, enforce delivery truck times and incentivize business owners to maintain well-kept, desirable storefronts. People miss the unique and artful storefronts of the old Key West — Environmental Circus, Art Attack and Fast Buck Freddies. No one wants it to be a one-way street and the Mall on Duval wasn’t right for our town. … The people know what they want.
  3. Mallory Square. This would be third on my list. I don’t think we should pause decisions or projects while waiting on the change in commission. The current commission has great wisdom and experience, let’s trust them to use that to make good decisions until the very last day of their terms.
Key West is in the process of revitalizing Duval Street and increasing its resiliency to sea level rise. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

“Government already moves extremely slowly,” Cuervo Carey said. “The residents deserve for us to work for them from the minute we take office until the day we leave. I know this outgoing commission loves this community and has dedicated many years of service to Key West. While they respect that new folks are coming in, I think they will keep the city moving forward and make the last few, very best decisions they can make for their community and its people. The new commission will enter during whatever phase these projects are in and make important decisions about these projects in their time as well.”

Hoover said that all three undertakings “are valid projects that I think we have to keep moving forward on.” She added that the Duval Street consultants seem to recognize the three disparate regions that exist on Duval Street and are taking those into account. She is also awaiting the next update on Mallory Square, as “their first pass eliminated a lot of parking and city revenue down there.”Commissioner Jimmy Weekley said, “We have some amount of money invested in all three projects, and I think they’re all way too important to be placed on a shelf somewhere by a new commission.”

Mandy Miles
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.