Commissioner’s bid for 2nd term faces challenge

When Curt Smith was elected in 2014 to the Brevard County Commission District 4 seat, beating out six fellow Republicans, a Democrat and a Libertarian, the auto-painting businessman planned to give it four years and be out this year at the end of his term.

“I couldn’t see doing more than four years,” he said last week. “But many, many, many people really want me to do this again.”

So Smith, 69, of Melbourne is seeking a second four-year term in the district that includes the beachside area of Satellite Beach and Indian Harbor Beach, plus the mainland area of Melbourne, Viera and Suntree west to the St. Johns River.

And he’s not alone. Former Commissioner Trudie Infantini, 60, who represented District 3 for two terms from 2008 to 2016, is challenging Smith in the Aug. 28 GOP primary.

Whoever wins the Republican nomination will then face Democrat Michael Fleming of Satellite Beach and write-in candidate Richard Charbonneau in the Nov. 6 general election.

Infantini said she moved in 2015 from south Melbourne Beach, in District 3, to Viera. She said she moved for her own reasons, not just to run for the commission again. But she’s challenging Smith now that she’s there.

Infantini couldn’t seek a third commission term in 2016 because of the county charter’s term limits.

But she ran instead that year against her political ally, Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis. She had worked as an auditor for Ellis before running for the commission. She lost to Ellis that year.

Meanwhile, she said, before she left the commission, she helped political newcomer Smith win the District 4 seat.

“He said he’d vote the same way I had, but he didn’t,” she said. “I felt guilty after knocking on a thousand doors to get him the district. He has raised taxes all three years he’s been there.”

Infantini said she prides herself on being a fiscal conservative and voting in opposition whenever the commission considered pricy expenditures. That often put her at odds with her colleagues in 4-1 votes – a position inherited by her District 3 successor, Commissioner John Tobia of Palm Bay.

In fact, Tobia in December gave Infantini a stack of campaign flyers. Infantini valued it as a $319 “in-kind” contribution, according to reports filed with the county Supervisor of Elections Office. Tobia said the flyers were his comparison between Smith’s and Infantini’s votes on spending.

Tobia, who doesn’t face his own race until 2020, said he and Infantini tend to vote more conservatively than Smith does.

“That’s a world of difference from where Curt Smith is,” Tobia said.

He said he hopes the next election will bring a new, tighter-spending majority with him, Infantini and District 5 Commissioner Kristine Isnardi, who often helps Tobia but loses in 3-2 votes.

Isnardi also won’t face reelection until 2020. For her part, she said, she’s not actively helping Infantini because she doesn’t get involved in her colleagues’ campaigns. She said she can get along with whoever wins District 4.

Infantini didn’t discuss it as an alliance with Tobia and Isnardi. Rather, she focused on breaking up the current big-spending majority of Smith, District 2 Commissioner Jim Barfield of Meritt Island and District 1 Commissioner Rita Pritchett.

Tobia and Smith, meanwhile, rarely see eye-to-eye, occasionally needling each other. One of their recent battles was over a $5 million expenditure of revenue collected from hotels and other short-term rentals – the county’s 5 percent tourist-development tax – on upgrades to the Viera Regional Park.

Part of the deal included artificial turf on seven multi-use sports fields. Tobia opposed that project, preferring instead to use the money to help clean the ailing Indian River Lagoon, such as replacing aging sewer pipes that can leach there. And Infantini said she would have agreed to that.

“They spent that money on AstroTurf instead of fixing sewer pipes in Satellite Beach,” she said. “(Those fields) were not as important as fixing the pipes. Let’s fix those pipes now before they’re broken.”

Smith bristled at the nickname he’s heard on the campaign trail, “AstroTurf Curt,” and insisted he voted to spend the $5 million, not only to relieve Viera youth teams of potholes in their fields, but to help the U.S. Specialty Sports Association bring more youth tournaments here.

And that, he said, will lure enough fans and teams to add 75,000 nights of room rentals to local hotels each year for its first three years, followed by 100,000 room-nights a year after that.

“(Tobia and Infantini) say I’m against the lagoon, but they play fast and loose with the facts,” Smith said. “I have boated and fished in the Indian River. That river is extremely important to me. … I’m on the Indian River Lagoon Council. I’ve been vice chairman and chairman.”

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