Depending on whom you ask, there were up to 19 Key West mayoral candidates in the spring of 2018. Yet after two potential frontrunners unexpectedly bowed out, and many other names faded during the summer, the smoke cleared with seven candidates bidding for Key West’s top spot.
On Tuesday, the expected frontrunner, Teri Johnston, collected just over 49 percent of the vote—leaving her less than two percentage points shy of walking away with a clear, uncontested victory. Instead, City Commissioner Margaret Romero and George Bellenger anxiously monitored the polls as they battled for the remaining spot for a November runoff.
Just after 8 p.m. it was clear Johnston would finish short of the 50 percent (plus one) mark needed to avoid a runoff. And with 9 of 10 Key West precincts reporting, Bellenger and Romero were within 50 votes of one another. Moments later, the final precinct reported, giving Romero a second-place victory, by just 28 votes over Bellenger.
By law, the narrow margin separating Bellenger and Romero required a recount, which immediately took place on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. The results of the recount confirmed Romero as Johnston’s opponent in November.
There will be plenty of “what ifs” in the wake of Tuesday’s election. What if there hadn’t been so many candidates — could that have changed the results for Bellenger? Or what if 29 more people (out of the 42.18 percent turnout) had visited the polls on Tuesday? Or what if more doors were knocked on … more babies kissed … what if?
But elections are not decided on “what ifs.” Romero and Johnston will begin a new campaign, scrambling for the votes belonging to the five other candidates in the primary election. With both having successful terms on the City Commission, each candidate will inevitably tout her experience on the dais. Yet it remains to be seen what the clear-cut differences are between the two.
“Things will be a little different now,” Romero told the Weekly shortly after the final results were revealed. When asked if she would share those differences, Romero smiled and replied, “Not right now.”
What is certain is that Romero has a large margin to overcome before November. Not only did Johnston command nearly half of the primary votes, she also dwarfed Romero’s campaign contributions by nearly $70,000. But in politics, anything is possible. And the race for mayor is expected to heat up over the next nine weeks.
MORE ELECTION NEWS:
Key West Mayor Craig Cates announced he will run for County Commission in 2020. The seat he is seeking is currently held by Heather Carruthers, who has not confirmed if she will seek re-election.
Beth Ramsay-Vickery edged Walt Drabinski by just over 100 votes in the Utility Board Seat D race. Ramsay-Vickery will take on Robert Barrios, who collected 39 percent of the primary vote.