Down to Two – Mayoral candidates address the issues - A couple of people posing for the camera - Teri Johnston

Around the country, women candidates are breaking records this year. From Congress to gubernatorial races, women are dominating elections and the Key West mayoral race is right on trend. For the first time ever, it’s not whether a woman will be mayor but which woman, Teri Johnston or Margaret Romero? Both have business backgrounds, both are former city commissioners and both have a great passion for the city. Their differences can best be expressed through their individual approach to issues. 

* Editor’s note: Candidate answers appear as submitted.

1. You both use the term “improving the quality of life.” Can you list three specific areas you would address?

(TJ) Adequate housing for our key employees. Reduce traffic congestion by creating alternative ways to traverse Key West i.e.: safe bicycle paths and sidewalks. Pave our streets and then routinely maintain them. Smart parking solutions prioritizing our residents.

(MR) Three things that need addressing are greed, political hypocrisy, and self-serving interests. Quality of life runs the gamut of noisy leaf-blowers to cost of living to sustainability. Fact based decision making based on community best interests while considering cost implications will all help in bettering life on our island.

2. Duval Street is the crown and thorn of Key West. Residents are often frustrated by sanitation, lack of local business (many empty storefronts) and the code enforcements for Duval businesses — specifically, the business practices of the cosmetic shops. Any ideas to clean up Duval, both literally and figuratively?

(TJ) Yes, lots of ideas, mostly generated by discussions with the business owners who are eager to improve Duval Street. Duval can use an immediate face lift by paving the washboard street block by block, repair and paint the curbs, get the gum off of the sidewalks, plant and maintain the existing planters, add benches for locals and visitors alike, provide a public restroom for Duval Street pedestrians, add more bicycle racks and remove the visual clutter from an already over crowded street. Let’s try a “pedestrian only” pilot program for portions of Duval to see if it creates a “more desirable” Duval to bring locals back and boost the sales of our loyal merchants. Deceptive practices by any merchant will not be tolerated anywhere on Duval.

(MR) Enforce current ordinances that property owners/tenants are responsible for the area in front of their building out to the beginning of the street to improve cleanliness/appearance. Empty storefronts are a result of higher rents and availability of “good” workers – neither under city control. The code compliance department should not be only complaint driven and fines should be stiffer.

3. The city has initiated a “King Tide photo campaign” to document rising floodwaters on our streets, an acknowledgement of a growing environmental problem. How do you think we can address the infrastructure problems the floodwaters present?

(TJ) That’s the magic of Key West. We attract the brightest, most successful people from around the world who possess a wealth of experience in many areas including flooding and sea level rise. In fact, I just met with one of those citizens eager to help. His mantra is “Build with nature, Live with water.” We are a porous island so it makes sense that we need to build up some infrastructure while developing and improving our systems to take water off of our island effectively.

(MR) Mother Nature is in control of hurricanes and sea level rise. For such things, you can prepare or get out of the way. To prepare – you look to the experts, learn from their experience, and apply that most useful to the situation. To raise streets only dumps the water onto individual lots. Building a wall around the island is just not the solution.

4. You will inherit the Irma deficit as mayor – specifically, the federal government’s lack of reimbursement so far of the city’s Irma debt. Do you have a plan to get our money?

(TJ) Put pressure on Tallahassee. We have the perfect opportunity to impact the speed in which we are reimbursed with the mid term elections. Getting our money back must be an election issue for Key West with the Gubernatorial and House 120 races at stake. As a City we should also re-evaluate the documentation provided to the State to make sure that we have done everything needed to speed the process. It is going to take daily pressure on Tallahassee.

(MR) City deficits were not only caused by Irma. FEMA monies are being distributed after state evaluations of claims filed. I currently have contacts within our city, as well as throughout the county, and state and federal levels with whom I will continue to work to address the situation.

5. As a commissioner, you are familiar with the struggle to enact and pass initiatives; how can you help the commission become more productive as its leader?

(TJ) We become more productive as a Commission when we listen, negotiate, build consensus, appreciate alternative viewpoints, open to change your viewpoint with new information, be receptive to new, different ideas and approaches and be able to make the tough decisions in the face of vocal opposition if those decisions benefit the majority of Key West.

(MR) I will use my successful business experience to bridge differences, facilitate meaningful and respectful discussion (from the dais and the public), lead fact based dialogues, clarify the problem/ issue at hand, explain the “why needed,” follow transparent procedures, and be mindful of our responsibilities to the community — not the entitlements some wish for. I will lead by example while demonstrating integrity, fairness, professionalism and adherence to Sunshine Laws and State Ethics guidelines.

6. Craig Cates will be remembered for, among other things, building City Hall and Truman Waterfront. What big city projects would you like to see move forward under your term as mayor?

(TJ) Prepare Key West to manage flooding of our streets and neighborhoods. A Duval Street and Mallory Square facelift. Focus on properly repairing and maintaining our streets and infrastructure and to maintain and improve the public parks and recreational areas of Key West. It’s time to find a couple of free boat launches for our locals, institute our master bicycle plan and focus on bringing Bayview Park back to a peoples park. I also want to bring back HOSPICE services to Key West.

(MR) There are many cans that have been kicked down the road for years: preserving workforce housing, providing a new KOTS, addressing parking on the entire island and road improvement with practicality and prioritization, tackling Community Services equipment and personnel needs to better serve the public. It is not all about projects and buildings, it is about our city becoming more efficient, responsive, accountable and innovative while being fair and impartial in all our dealings.

7. Traffic is a major Old Town issue; residents and tourists, drivers and bicyclists are all frustrated. The infrastructure is not sustainable, the roads are eroding, there isn’t enough room in general for everyone. Parking garages were an idea that was vehemently protested. Any ideas how to move forward?

(TJ) Our narrow streets must be one-way accommodating on-street parking and a dedicated bicycle lane. Our paving schedule for Key West should be based on road conditions, not a predetermined budgeted paving figure. If we need 4 miles of roads paved, we need to pave 4 miles. We have hundreds of cars daily in Old Town that could be parked elsewhere (like College Road) given an efficient system to get into Old Town and back to your car.

(MR) Here is just one idea – Build a parking garage near the Simonton St. fire station; central to downtown businesses and attractions, quickly accessible to the free Duval Loop. A good solution to benefit workers, residents and visitors. It increases number of off-street parking spaces, generates revenue, and takes cars off the street that travel round and round looking for a place to park.

8. What is the biggest problem with pushing through with affordable housing legislation?

(TJ) #1 “NIMBYism” (Not in my backyard). #2 As a Commission, we have authority to add whatever conditions we deem necessary to any Major Development Agreement. Those need to include affordable housing requirements for both development and re-development. #3 Accessory units need to be easy to apply for and build throughout Key West. #4 Our entire process needs to be streamlined to encourage affordable/workforce housing.

(MR) Money and proper planning.

9. The TDC operates with a budget ranging from $40 million to $50 million, which promotes tourism, events and infrastructure in the Keys. Are you content with how that money is spent to promote tourism in Key West? If not, would you propose more/less? 

(TJ) Key West is in a different position than many of the other municipalities in Monroe County. I would like to see more funding to improve our tourism “product” as a way to increase business and a campaign to attract a tourist who has the time and money to enjoy all of the wonderful experiences that Key West has to offer.

(MR) It is not a question of TDC spending more or less. It is how it is spent and on what. That all depends on what conditions are at hand – post hurricane, post oil spill, competing markets, desired demographics of visitors, availability of “product” for the demographic that is desired, attraction for those desired as repeat visitors …. and the list goes on. TDC does not promote infrastructure.

10. Illegal rentals that operate without transient licenses continue to be a growing concern. What more can the city do to enforce our laws and what is your position on Airbnb’s ongoing push to operate in Key West without paying its share of fees and taxes? 

(TJ) Need strong representation in Tallahassee so that Key West retains control of our vacation rental markets which is under debate every legislative session. Increase our Code staffing to enforce our vacation rental ordinances. This should be revenue neutral. Make a statement at the penalty phase of this infraction that is substantial enough to change behavior.

(MR) What the city should do for ALL transient and short term rentals, including rooms, to include those offered by Air B’n B or similar organization:

  • Require licenses
  • Differentiate between transient and short term
  • Require commercial insurance proof
  • Compel smoke & carbon monoxide detectors, yearly fire inspections
    • Mandate owner / manager live in Key West
      Name, address, phone number in City records, immediately available to first
    • responders, and public
      Posted with license in unit
  • Fee based on property type / zone (example, highest fee for transient rental in single family neighborhood)
  • Non-compliance fees doubled each occurrence
  • Increase number of personnel involved in enforcement.

11. After Hurricane Irma, leadership was put to the test, especially with the unpopular decision not to allow residents back in immediately for the sake of safety. It required many agencies to work together, tough choices, and working in the national spotlight. Do you feel prepared for such a monumental task?

(TJ) Yes. I am by nature a calm, fact based individual who works effectively in a team environment like the EOC. I spent 8 years serving the City of Key West as a City Commissioner actively involved with County/City coordination and preparation for hurricanes. I have always been ready to make the tough call based on input, facts and instinct.

(MR) YES! I have the stamina and successful background experience to lead, even in times of crisis. To make things happen, one has to have their ego in check — to inspire confidence and resilience in others by keeping their composure. To be productive in difficult situations, one must have always treated others fairly and respectfully along the way, for everyone is in it together to be successful. Making the right decision, based on listening and all perspectives, can be difficult — yet when faced with the improbable, my old senior class motto comes to mind — “we will either find a way or make one.” I am comfortable working in the local and national spotlight — and communicating on all levels. Such communication is not running off at the mouth or spouting sound bites. It is necessary to just face reality and tell the truth with poise, competence, and conviction.


In the Aug. 28 primary election:
Teri Johnston: 3,077 votes (48.88%)
Margaret Romero: 1,338 votes (21.25%)

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