Picketers get pushback

Key West Weekly draws your attention this week to a Facebook post and subsequent comment thread that got people’s attention and started conversations, online and in real life.

For those who missed the original post or decided to add their two cents without knowing the impetus, here’s what happened:

The Key West Mayor’s Ball took place on Saturday, Jan 18, when nearly 200 folks in formalwear filled the grounds of the stately Southernmost House Hotel. Proceeds from ticket sales were shared among three local charities dedicated to helping local children. Food was donated and prepared by the Key West Iron Chefs to maximize the benefit to the charities.

Just outside the event stood two sign-waving protesters from the Key West Rip-Off Rapid Response Team, the group that’s been picketing and protesting the tactics and activities of downtown cosmetic shops for more than a year.

The picketers at the Mayor’s Ball were attempting to draw attention to the fact that the owner of the Southernmost House Hotel, Michael Halpern, also owns a building in the 100 block of Duval that he rents to one of the cosmetic shops in question.

Representatives from the recipient children’s charities attempted to speak with the protesters and inform them the ball was a charity event for local children.

Cheryl Cates, who made clear in her post that she had not attended the ball, chastised the picketers without naming them, and the resulting outcry drew a formal and public apology from Bruce Mitchell, co-founder of the Rapid Response Rip-Off Team, as well as a $1,000 donation to each of the charities represented at the Mayor’s Ball: Kids Come First, Michelle’s Foundation and Wesley House Family Services.

“We were not protesting the mayor, the Mayor’s Ball or the great charities it supports. Rather, we politely brought public discussion of the rip-off shops and (the people) who rent to them to a very influential group of Key West citizens,” Mitchell wrote in a widely circulated email and online apology. “Thank you to many of the attendees who voiced their support for the fight against the rip-off shops, and again my apologies to any attendee who was offended by our actions. I am truly sorry. To demonstrate the sincerity of this public apology, I am donating $1,000 to each of the charities the Mayor’s Ball supports and thank all of those who attended. Sincerely,  Bruce Mitchell.”

We hope that clears things up. See you online…

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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.