three seek mayor’s seat

Haskins, Rossi challenge incumbent Johnston

Three candidates — Rick Haskins, Teri Johnston and Mark Rossi — want the center seat on the Key West City Commission. If one of them gets a one-vote majority in August, the chair is theirs, and the nonpartisan mayor’s race will be decided in the August primary.

If no one gets one vote more than 50%, the top two candidates will head to a November runoff.

Rossi and Haskins want to unseat the incumbent Johnston, who was elected 20 months ago in 2018. 

Haskins, a Key West native, recently retired as principal broker of Vacasa vacation rental business. Johnston is co-owner of Affiliated Design and Construction Managers, and Rossi owns Rick’s/Durty Harry’s, one of the largest bar and entertainment complexes on Duval Street, and previously spent a decade as a city commissioner. 

“In all my years in Key West I have never seen the island so divided,” Haskins said. “Key West needs a leader that can unite us over issues to tackle challenges with resolve instead of with fear.”

“I understand the value of responsible tourism and the military’s contribution,” Rossi said. “I will not waste money on poorly planned projects like Mall on Duval and will offer common sense solutions.”

Johnston has championed a strategic planning process for Key West, worked to establish the Mall on Duval weekly pedestrian plaza and has implemented strict health and safety requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Your personal safety has been my priority since the COVID-19 pandemic. To guarantee Key West’s economic safety, I have focused on revitalizing our downtown corridor for the first time in 44 years.”


Keys Weekly asked each candidate (answers are as submitted): 

Rick Haskins
Age: 47
Current job: Real Estate Broker/Owner
How many years have you lived in Key West: All of my life and my family 5 generations

1. At last count, there were more than 35 shuttered storefronts on Duval Street and dozens of commercial property listings for lease in Key West. How do you envision Key West’s economic struggle and recovery over the next two to four years? 

As long as the administration changes on Aug. 18, our economic recovery can begin very rapidly as we safely emerge from this disaster. It is important to encourage the business community to bring back and reschedule festivals and events that were canceled and get them back on as we do after natural disasters. We will find out how to get to yes instead of acting from a place of fear and saying no. The 4th of July was a perfect example of an opportunity that the city had to find a way to adapt. It will not be sustainable if the city continues to close and cancel while waiting for a vaccine to come to the rescue. 

2. If voters approve the cruise ship referendums in November, how concerned are you about the city’s liability and the cost of potential lawsuits from business and property owners? 

Voters will not approve the referenda if they are acting from knowledge. I will support whatever the voters decide but it is important voters are informed on the facts and not voting based on arguments intended on playing on emotion. I believe that voters will agree that we should encourage ships with the best environmental record and not limit the ships and passengers to arbitrary numbers that have nothing to do with the actual safety of the ships. I think it is reasonable to say that limitations should be based on justification. It is apparent that cruise ships are not coming back any time soon and face their own set of challenges to even get passengers back. 

3. A group of small business owners recently formed Mom & Pop Key West, seeking a voice in the city they say they haven’t had before.  What can the city do to support small businesses in these economically devastating times while facing its own budget shortfalls? 

I believe that this falls in line with the priorities of my platform which operates on a model that intends to engage the community, work towards solutions that represent all of the residents, and take action. This would do a better job of listening to the entire community as a whole. Key West has always boasted pride in our local Mom and Pop shops. It is time that we allow them to operate as stakeholders by involving all businesses in our advertising and promoting of Key West. Who better to help solve the issues that the individuals who face them every day?


Teri Johnston
Age: 69
Current job: Mayor of Key West
How many years have you lived in Key West: 21

1. At last count, there were more than 35 shuttered storefronts on Duval Street and dozens of commercial property listings for lease in Key West. How do you envision Key West’s economic struggle and recovery over the next two to four years?

It will depend on the flexibility of our businesses in the post-COVID economic environment. We could see a significant change in tourism tendencies away from large, mass tourism events and moving towards smaller, more intimate gatherings with an emphasis placed on guest safety. We are well positioned to react to changing tourism needs because Key West offers such a wide variety of visitor experiences from nightlife, fine restaurants, museums, eco-tours, water sports, sunken ships, historic architectural tours, visual and performing arts, live music and literary events; all while being surrounded by pristine waters and beautiful sunsets. 

2. If voters approve the cruise ship referendums in November, how concerned are you about the city’s liability and the cost of potential lawsuits from business and property owners?

That question would be better directed to our legal department. Our City Commission is going to convene, in closed session, on Aug. 4, to discuss the action brought against the City by the (4) bar pilots. I should be able to answer this question more directly following our closed session discussion with our legal department, Senior City staff, and our Commission. 

3. A group of small business owners recently formed Mom & Pop Key West, seeking a voice in the city they say they haven’t had before.  What can the city do to support small businesses in these economically devastating times while facing its own budget shortfalls?

First, we must recognize that 90% of our small businesses are not members of either the Chamber or the Guild, so we have to find an avenue to give them a voice. The formation of the Mom and Pops is a great start. 

To support small businesses, we will be convening an interdisciplinary task force to address the challenges of our local economy/small businesses led by our Strategic Planning consultant, Elisa Levy. 

Second, we have to get healthy as a community so that small businesses can stay open. 

Also, we have brought forward a balanced budget with no shortfalls. 


Mark Rossi
Age: 59
Current job: Owner/operator of Dirty Harry’s/Rick’s Entertainment Complex
How many years have you lived in Key West:  40

1. At last count, there were more than 35 shuttered storefronts on Duval Street and dozens of commercial property listings for lease in Key West. How do you envision Key West’s economic struggle and recovery over the next two to four years?

I see a tough and difficult recovery. I will unify various groups in the community to achieve the goal of full recovery.

2. If voters approve the cruise ship referendums in November, how concerned are you about the city’s liability and the cost of potential lawsuits from business and property owners?

I am extremely concerned. Takings cases could be in the tens of millions of dollars. As Mayor, I will work with business and property owners that are most affected to minimize the potential financial losses that might occur.

3. A group of small business owners recently formed Mom & Pop Key West, seeking a voice in the city they say they haven’t had before.  What can the city do to support small businesses in these economically devastating times while facing its own budget shortfalls?

As a business leader in the community I will work extremely hard to support the mom-and-pop businesses, making sure they will have a voice that is heard. I started as a small business, so I both understand and empathize with these businesses in these devastating times.

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