Vero Beach voters issued yet another crystal-clear mandate Tuesday night, electing by a strong plurality the two candidates who vowed to finally get the city out of the electric business by selling the utility to Florida Power & Light.
In a veritable blowout, staunch pro-sale candidates Val Zudans and Harry Howle came out on the top of the heap in the race for the two available seats – one Howle will return to, and one being vacated by former mayor and three-term councilman Dick Winger.
Winger did not seek re-election, paving the way for two of his close allies, former mayor Jay Kramer and former vice mayor Randy Old, to try to recapture a spot on the council, and tilt the balance back to 3-to-2 in favor of the anti-sale forces. But Winger’s seat went to Zudans instead.
The election of both Howle and Zudans enlarges the 3-to-2 pro-sale majority on the council to 4-to-1.
Out of the six candidates, Old placed third and Kramer fourth, both double-digits behind Zudans and Howle. Newcomer Megan Hoots and former councilman Brian Heady finished way back.
A ballot initiative to lengthen City Council terms from two years to three failed by greater than a 2 to 1 margin, with 32.88 percent voting for and 67.12 voting against the referendum.
Turnout in Vero was up nearly 15 percent from the last off-year election in 2015 with 2,710 people voting, as opposed to 2,362 in 2015, showing the electorate was more engaged in the issues.
Howle, an insurance and risk management specialist, and challenger Zudans, a physician, were heavily supported by a political action committee organized by utility activist Glenn Heran and funded by FPL.
Zudans watched returns with his wife Tracey at the Orchid Island Brewery on the barrier island. Upon hearing the final returns, Zudans said, “I am humbled that the people chose me to represent them. My wife is truly my better half and the reason that I won. The people’s will will be done when the electric contract finally closes. That is mission 1, 2 and 3.”
Howle celebrated re-election with his wife Heather, Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot, Shores Vice Mayor Bob Auwaerter and County Commissioner Tim Zorc at Vero Prime restaurant.
“This is yet another example of the citizens of Vero Beach expressing their need and want to sell the electric utility to FPL. A lot of progress has been made thus far and I want to continue to work toward that goal and to be successful,” Howle said.
Howle said having Zudans in the mix will change the dynamic of the council for the better. “I look forward to working with Val toward common goals.”