District 2 commission race presents opportunity for late entry

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The race for Indian River County Commission District 2 began in October of 2009 and voter fatigue is growing worse every time the five candidates repurpose their canned stump speeches at fundraisers or candidate forums.

There is no buzz at these events, no enthusiam, only polite applause. Several of the candidates carry with them baggage, either by accusation, association or simply because they’ve all run for or served in office before.

David Snell, who ran for Sheriff and lost to Deryl Loar in 2008 is probably the freshest face and most inspiring speaker, but he suffers from the inherent challenge of being a Democrat in Indian River County.

After a recent panel forum featuring all five candidates at the Vero Beach Highlands Homeowner Association Clubhouse, audible grumbling could be heard as people filed out into the parking lot.

The gist of their comments was, “Is there anyone else? Would someone else please get into this race?”

The Republican Primary in August is the first real test of the candidates’ mettle, so here’s how the race has shaped up on the Republican side so far:

October 2009 — Then-Sebastian City Councilwoman Dale Simchick filed papers — something anyone paying attention knew she was going to do from the day she announced she would not run for re-election to city council. Simchick is the hand-picked candidate of Commissioner Gary Wheeler and has been endorsed by the Indian River Neighborhood Association.

Wheeler has not been shy about dishing out the dirt on incumbent Joe Flescher to give Simchick a better shot at getting elected. The possibility of her being a third vote for the re-emergence of charter government also has voters leery. However, Simchick has said she’s against charter government and the IRNA has said it’s a dead issue.

About three weeks later, local Realtor,  environmental activist and former Sebastian Mayor Carolyn Corum jumped in as a Republican. She later switched her party affiliation to Independent.

Corum seems earnest and her resume looks good “on paper,” but her lackluster performance at speaking engagements has hurt her chances. Republicans generally don’t forgive a candidate for jumping ship.

January 2010 — In a press conference on the steps of Vero Beach City Hall, Charlie Wilson declared that instead of appealing Judge Paul Kanarek’s decision to oust him from the Vero Beach City Council, that he would take his fight to the County Commission and work on utility issues there.

At the time, Wilson did not live in District 2 — though he’s recently rented a condo there — and he’s fought an uphill battle to regain credibility after his Vero Beach residency controversy and ouster.

In April, Wilson’s candidacy took another blow as Supervisor of Elections Kay Clem initiated an investigation into hundreds of questionable election petitions his campaign turned in.

Wilson’s rapid-response was to blame a conspiracy of his enemies, though, as facts have trickled out, revealing that members of Wilson’s family may have been involved in whatever happened with the petitions.

Wilson insists that he had nothing to do with the improper petitions and has blasted Clem for insinuating that he personally forged some signatures. Wilson has hired a handwriting expert to refute these claims.

Also in January, incumbent Joe Flescher filed for re-election. Flescher has been successful at gaining support from developers and the agriculture community and has been seen frequently soliciting and accepting the advice of developer Joe Palladin, who is known around town as the “Sixth Commissioner.”

Flescher says Wheeler’s efforts to sully his reputation have actually worked to his favor, but that has yet to be seen.

Bottom line is that someone who is relatively well-known in the county, who can afford to pony up the $3,400 filing fee and who can raise lots of money in a hurry has a great chance of stepping into this race, shaking it up and possibly winning.

Some names that have been swirling around include former Sebastian Mayor and County Emergency Services Coordinator Nate McCollum. McCollum attends nearly every commission meeting, but he now works for the Indian River Medical Center, which could be a conflict if he ran for county office.

Former Tax Collector and State Senator Charlie Sembler has also reportedly been interested in throwing his hat in the ring, but he exited politics just two years ago to spend more time with family and concentrate on his family business.

Utility activist Glenn Heran, who has lived on acreage in District 2 with his family for many years,  pulled papers for the race shortly after the Wilson petition investigation was announced.

In case Wilson had to pull out of the race, Heran wanted to make sure that there was a candidate in the running who could take up the mantle of the electricity issues on which he’s worked hard for years.

“I would like to see a viable candidate in the race who is very strong on utility issues and who is not afraid to take a stand and be proactive,” Heran said.

Heran decided, after consultation with family, that it is not the right time for him to get into politics. Heran has three school-age children and plays a key role in his family rental property business.

Though he’s attended various political events, even those hosted by candidates, Heran said he does not plan to endorse a District 2 candidate.

“I felt that I could better use my time and energy right now in the educational role that Steve Faherty and I continue to play in the utility issues,” Heran said.

As part of his deliberation, Heran met with a respected colleague, Commissioner Bob Solari, who he would consider a role model as a commissioner. Solari at the time, not wanting to breach any confidences between himself and Heran, simply made this comment.

“It would be a very brave thing for Mr. Heran to do,” referring to the District 2 race.

So with five days to go, the race still seems wide open, leaving a good opportunity for a well-known person, possibly someone from the Town of Orchid or the Town of Indian River Shores, to jump in and give the competition a run for their money.

This final qualifying week closes at noon Friday.

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