Monroe County Seal

Monroe County has lost tourism revenue, tax revenue and residents throughout the coronavirus crisis. Additional changes are ahead, as the island chain deals with sea level rise, housing shortages for working residents, the continuing decline of the coral reef and the steep cost of employee salary and benefit packages. 

The race for Monroe County Commission District 1 has incumbent Republican Craig Cates facing Demoratic challenger Annalise Mannix vying to represent constituents in Key West. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis in December 2019 appointed Cates to the county commission to  complete the term of former county commissioner Danny Kolhage that ends Nov. 17, 2020. Cates is now campaigning to keep that seat.

He served as mayor of Key West from 2009 until 2018. Before that, he owned a Napa Auto Parts store for 10 years. 

Mannix is the former head of the city of Key West’s engineering department. She owns an engineering firm and more recently has worked with Fair Insurance in Monroe (FIRM) to control windstorm insurance rates in the Florida Keys.

The District 1 race formerly pitted Cates in a primary against tax collector Danise “Dee Dee” Henriquez, who withdrew from the race on June 10. 

Keys Weekly asked both candidates to answer the following four questions in 100 words or fewer (answers are as submitted):


Annalise MannixName: Annalise Mannix
Age: 57
Professional Background: Professional Engineer
Political Party:  Democtratic
Current Job:  Planning and Development Engineering Manager

Q. If you had sole authority to make one immediate and permanent change to Monroe County government (with regard to policies, operations, personnel, payroll or anything else) what would you do?

A. The cost of sustaining the Keys lifestyle and environment is high. Management of tourism and reducing and mitigating its impacts responsibly are needed more than tourism development. Adjusting tourism related taxes to help pay for more county capital projects will help ensure a sustainable future. Shifting that savings from the capital budget to help county staff ensure tourism no longer reduces workforce housing stock will support our struggling employers and workforce.

Q. Financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic are still being calculated and continue to rise at the local, state, national and global level. As Monroe County develops its budgets for the next five years, where, specifically, should cuts be made, and how do you envision the impact on property taxes?

A. Property taxes contribute 20% to the County’s $473 million budget. Property values are holding but raising the millage must not solve a shortfall in the other 80%. Where state and federal funding is cut, the programs should be trimmed. Less sales tax means continuing to cover debt service but delaying capital projects.

A strong advocate for Climate Change I believe planning should continue, but implementation of large projects must be delayed. Delay implementation for a year and re-evaluate the priority of canal restoration versus road elevation.

As the economy recovers, reevaluate staffing levels and alternate options to excessive use of overtime pay.

Q.  With the benefit of hindsight, what should Monroe County have done differently in response to the coronavirus pandemic? 

A. Let’s be fair. Leading the response to a worldwide pandemic comes from the top – national and state directives. Monroe County established checkpoints that helped protect citizens immensely. Their two-week experiment with ‘requiring masks,’ just when the County was just opening up, was less successful. I would have required masks in order to send a message to returning visitors – “WEAR YOUR MASK!”

After Hurricane Irma, the County knew it had an emergency pay problem. They should have fixed it sooner. Yes, some employees faced increased risk working with COVID-19, but not 90% of the County employees.

Q. What must Monroe County do to encourage and enable more affordable housing options in the Keys?

A. Who doesn’t want to live in Paradise? Demand outstrips supply and property values soar. This long environmentally sensitive chain of islands can only handle so much housing before our narrow highway restricts safe evacuation.

Were there a silver bullet, the problem would have been solved long ago. 

Focusing our efforts on housing for workers rather than retirees will help. Increasing workforce housing building height and density will help. Awarding and implementing ROGOs in a mix of rents that match the real workforce need helps.  Putting large apartment complexes within or close to employment centers with bicycles, scooters and bus transport helps.


Name: Craig C. Cates
Age: 66
Professional Background: Business Owner, World Champion Boat Racer, Master Mechanic
Political Party: Republican
Current Job: County Commissioner

Q. If you had sole authority to make one immediate and permanent change to Monroe County government (with regard to policies, operations, personnel, payroll or anything else) what would you do?

A. Fortunately, our system of democracy does not provide for unilateral decision-making, however, if given magical powers for one day, I would solve affordable housing and get rid of the coronavirus.

Q. Financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic are still being calculated and continue to rise at the local, state, national and global level. As Monroe County develops its budgets for the next five years, where, specifically, should cuts be made, and how do you envision the impact on property taxes?

A. While we must tighten our belts and do more with less, protecting our quality of life and improving services for residents continues to be my priority. When I was first elected mayor of Key West, the City was facing a budget shortfall due to the worst financial crisis in history. Working together with other commissioners and City staff, and using my business background, I successfully led the City’s response. The result: A budget surplus each year I was Mayor. At the same time, we improved city services and infrastructure and kept taxes lower than in unincorporated Monroe County.

Q.  With the benefit of hindsight, what should Monroe County have done differently in response to the coronavirus pandemic?

A. Everyone is working with the best information available and is responding in real-time.      

Now is the time for us as leaders to listen, understand, and answer with action. Evaluating and improving our course of action is a continual and ongoing process — now is not the time for “Monday morning quarterbacking,” as we continue to face an ongoing pandemic. We will have an open and honest evaluation of the county’s response in the future and will bring the knowledge and lessons learned as an organization into our planning moving forward.

Q. What must Monroe County do to encourage and enable more affordable housing options in the Keys?

A. We must work together to find creative solutions to our housing shortage and to protect the affordable housing that we already have. This includes working with our state and federal delegation to maintain local control and providing incentives for landlords to rent affordably. I am using my experience working with our representatives to help facilitate these efforts right now. We should look at increasing density with restrictions where it makes sense. We must make sure we protect and preserve our neighborhoods, our health and safety, and our quality of life. 

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