On the evening of Nov. 6 in Key West, there were toasts and embraces, as well as tears shed and gnashing of teeth. Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum, who visited our progressive town (a dot of blue at the end of a long red line) just last week, lost a historic race against Trump-endorsed Ron DeSantis. In an upset flipping the other way, incumbent Republican House Representative Carlos Curbelo lost to Democratic contender Debbie Mucarsel Powell. Incredibly, Rick Scott beat Bill Nelson for Senate by only one vote in Monroe County, with final numbers at 18,021 and 18,020 respectively. I can only pray that lacking Nelson vote wasn’t one of my hungover buddies.
Sidebar at Aqua was teeming with nail-biting Democrats and the Harvey Government Center was a flurry of activity, with results rolling in to the celebratory teams of Holly Raschein, Michelle Coldiron, and Phil Goodman. Tensions ran high all over town.
If anywhere in town was a great representation of what Key West and “One Human Family” really means, it was the Teri Johnston mayoral party at Waterfront Brewery. In fact, the Key West artist who coined the phrase, JT Thompson, was there toasting our new mayor personally. Johnston’s was also a historic victory—she is the first “out” lesbian mayor to be elected in Florida.
Johnston’s response to the pioneering nature of her victory was, “That’s what I’ve been told,” as reported by the Miami Herald. That kind of casual attitude toward acceptance — which might be groundbreaking elsewhere — is exactly what makes Key West so great. Johnston’s sexual identification, as historic and hopeful as it may be for the LGBT community and America as a whole, was not the focus here, because we are a community that presumes tolerance as a baseline. The 20-year Key West resident ran an issues-driven campaign.
Johnston, who garnered nearly 67 percent of the vote, credited her victory to her team cooperation, and she said she looks forward to “working together” and continuing to build the “inclusive environment” that is Key West. County Commissioner Heather Carruthers was also in attendance (and also identifies as gay, for the record) and she commented on being proud of the “respectful races” that were run locally for multiple offices. Tellingly, the first person to congratulate Johnston at the Harvey Government Building was Margaret Romero, her opponent.
Respect and tolerance should be the norm all over America, but that’s often not the case. Whether our personal favorite candidates won or lost, it makes me proud to see Key West setting a higher bar for political rhetoric and tone of political. I saw a lot of hugs and handshakes across the aisle last night. While Key Westers sometimes feel isolated as an outpost of liberalism in a sea of Keys conservatism, we should credit our community for being capable of crossing boundaries of race, creed, gender and sexual identity, and political affiliation. And we do it all in sunglasses and a smile. I may campaign to expand the island’s “One Human Family” motto to the rest of America.