Wait, you mean we wrote about something other than the pandemic and its many-tentacled reach into all facets of life? There were other things happening in Key West from late February 2020 until now? Oh, that’s right. We also had a local election, a hotly divided cruise ship debate, online voting for virtual Bubba Awards and an interview with Mark Wahlberg. Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Although the coronavirus captured nearly all headlines and consumed all conversations, there were a few other noteworthy news stories from the Southernmost City in 2020:
VOTERS PASS CRUISE SHIP REDUCTIONS AFTER DEBATE DIVIDES CITY
Key West’s cruise ship debate was as divisive and political as the presidential election. The Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships led a charge to change the city charter to significantly reduce the size and number of ships that can visit Key West. The committee has claimed that smaller ships will benefit both the environment and the culture of Key West. But others in the industry question those claims and have said the smaller ships are older and are therefore the least environmentally friendly.
Business owners and the Key West Chamber of Commerce opposed the limitations and proposed compromises that were not accepted.
The ballot questions passed handily with a 60% majority. Now come the lawsuits, as business owners look to hold the city responsible for financial damages they will incur once the cruise industry resumes sailing. It remains to be seen whether the ship restrictions can be enforced at Pier B, the city’s only privately owned cruise ship docking facility. The owners of Pier B are not expected to simply relinquish tens of millions of dollars of income from cruise ships.
The issue has been moot since the last ship departed Key West on March 14 as the pandemic took hold, but will return in the coming months as ships return to the seas.
KEY WEST WEEKLY GETS INTERVIEW WITH MARK WAHLBERG
Key West Weekly publisher Britt Myers scored an interview with Mark Wahlberg in August. The A-list actor, director, diehard Patriots fan and celebrity family man lent his support to the opening of his family’s 46th Wahlburgers restaurant. The Key West location opened in August at the city’s Historic Seaport. During the grand opening celebration in Key West, a young fan of Mark Wahlberg was dining at the restaurant with his parents. When the manager heard what a fan the kid was, he got Mark Wahlberg on the phone and let the kid FaceTime with his Hollywood idol.
(Star power notwithstanding, the food’s “wicked good,” too.)
MAYOR TERI JOHNSTON RE-ELECTED
Key West Mayor Teri Johnston drew two challengers in her nonpartisan race for re-election. The August primary pitted Johnston against her fellow former city commissioner Mark Rossi, who owns a collection of bars on Duval Street, and native son Rick Haskins, who retired from a career in the vacation rental business to become a full-time mayor.
Johnston needed more than 50% of the votes to defeat her challengers in the primary and received 59%. Rossi garnered 21% and Haskins took 19%.
KEYS WEEKLY’S BUBBA AWARDS GO VIRTUAL WITH ONLINE VOTING
Keys Weekly had to change up the 2020 Bubbas: Key West People’s Choice Awards due to — what else? — the pandemic. There was no live awards ceremony due to social distancing requirements, and online voting netted more than 11,000 ballots over six weeks.
The revised format asked voters to vote for one of the previous years’ (2014-2019) winners in each category. The “all-inclusive” format and nomination process will return in 2021, but we wanted to remain sensitive this year to struggling friends, neighbors and businesses — and avoid pitting the entire community against one another.
This year’s awards also raised funds for Community Wins, the fundraising initiative created to replace the donations lost to the cancellation of Fantasy Fest and its King and Queen campaign.
Thank you to everyone who has participated in the Bubbas: Key West People’s Choice Awards since 2014. Your generosity, along with that of our sponsors, has raised nearly $100,000 for local nonprofits and organizations.
KEYS WEEKLY COLUMNIST DAVID SLOAN EXAMINES HISTORIC RACISM IN KEY WEST
In light of the George Floyd murder in Minnesota at the hands of police, and the Black Lives Matter movement nationwide, columnist and researcher David Sloan penned a series of columns about historic and systemic racism that tarnished Key West in the first half of the 20th century.
Sloan’s powerful and deeply researched articles, collectively called “Love Me Do,” dove into the darker days of an island long known for acceptance. The columns explored racist minstrel shows, the punishment of tar and feathering, lynchings and other crimes perpetrated on people of color.
PANDEMIC MAKES COW KEY BRIDGE REPAIRS PALATABLE
The dreaded Cow Key Bridge replacement proved to be a silver lining to the dark days of COVID. Replacement of the twin bridge spans required 180 days of lane closures that were expected to tie up traffic entering and leaving Key West at various times of the day.
The school district was working to reschedule bus routes; Key West hotels were adjusting workers’ schedules to alleviate delays in the morning and afternoon. But with no visitors allowed in the Keys from March to June, school buildings closed and no hotel guests, the work progressed with minimal inconvenience and was finished on time.