What is Tuesday’s Vero Beach City Council election about?
It’s the first election in a decade that is free from debate about the sale of Vero electric. Some say this election is about “growth” but other than the two large riverfront parcels to be leveled over the next five years after utility structures are removed, plus the old postal annex property and a few other scattered parcels, Vero is virtually built out. So it’s not really about growth.
The power structure of Vero Beach is a constant tension between old Vero and new Vero. Between people who were born locally and have deep roots, and people who made their living and raised their kids somewhere else and who now offer up their own ideas about how things should be done. If anything, that is what this rather dull election is probably about.
On the old Vero side there’s Councilman Tony Young. Young not only wants to get re-elected, but to preside as mayor during the city’s centennial year, 100 years after his grandfather, A.W. Young, was the first mayor of the city.
It’s poetic and it’s appropriate. Young has done a good job representing Vero’s established families and its veterans, and he’s a likeable guy – often a consensus builder. He’s raised more than $20,500 for his campaign, only $1,600 of which was his own money, and he enjoys a broad base of support. In other words, Col. Young will be pretty tough to beat. Young says this election is about “leadership, pure and simple.” He says Vero needs a council that is informed, engaged and will keep the city’s priorities properly aligned.
Also representing the Vero establishment is Robbie Brackett. Unlike Young, who got out of Vero to become a combat medic in the U.S. Army and travel the world in service to his country, Brackett grew up in his family’s various real estate, development and investment businesses, where he is now a partner with his father, Robert Brackett Sr., and other family members.
According to the paperwork in his campaign packet on file with the city, Brackett has interests in seven different companies that own dozens of properties, plus he lists 78 different addresses as “Brackett Family Rentals.” Brackett has also inherited a staunch tradition of philanthropy in a family that gives back and re-invests in the community that has been good to them, and he chairs the Brackett Family Foundation.
The Vero native’s campaign materials say Brackett wants to “Overhaul our budget and keep taxes low,” but also that “We can count on Robert Brackett to protect our parks and city owned land and respect our rich history because he already has.”
Brackett as of Feb. 1 reported $34,185 in campaign contributions, which includes $2,650 he donated to himself, about $200 of which was lumber for signs and postage. Brackett’s donor list reads like an Indian River County Who’s Who. Just about every local elected official is there, plus many of the attorneys and small business owners. Brackett is being supported by the more moderate Republican establishment, people like Tax Collector and former Vero first lady Carole Jean Jordan, and also by the Tea Party contingent, namely builder Toby Hill and County Commissioner Bob Solari. Councilman Val Zudans and wife Tracey are also big supporters of Brackett’s candidacy.
Representing those who forged their careers elsewhere and moved to Vero rather late in life are incumbent Councilwoman Laura Moss and Vero Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO Robert McCabe.
Moss, simply by being everywhere and meeting everyone, has managed to make friends with a wide variety of people and adopt an interesting collection of positions on issues, but her number one goal at this point seems to be staying in office. Moss loaned her own campaign $7,500 for this race. Why? Because she obviously wants a say in what direction Vero takes going forward. Moss appears to be trying to compete with Brackett, but she does not have the Vero heavy hitters behind her financially.
In a recent television interview, Moss said of herself, “I was smokin’ hot” for being the top vote getter in the November election that did not count – a showing that she recently said gives her a “mandate” to push her positions. Moss took entirely too much credit for completing the sale of Vero electric, and sadly, she seems to have fallen into the trap of previous Vero council members who inflate the importance of their office.
McCabe is the least known of the six candidates; he only moved to Vero from Michigan and in 2016 took on the task of heading up the Vero Beach Chamber of Commerce, which was founded by former Vero councilman Charlie Wilson in January 2014.
McCabe knows corporate America. He worked for General Motors for 32 years, with responsibilities spanning six continents. But despite his business acumen and reputation as a turnaround expert, McCabe’s fundraising efforts have limped along like a flat tire. McCabe, like Moss, put a lot of his own money into his campaign. Of the $9,461 McCabe reported in contributions as of Feb. 1, $8,500 came from his own pocket.
Then there are the two in-between candidates – Brian Heady and Linda Hillman – who grew up elsewhere but have been in Vero Beach for decades. Heady and Hillman are both outsiders in many ways. Heady lobs grenades at just about anyone in power, staking out his permanent spot as the vocal opposition. Hillman does not have big business experience or influential social circles. The retired Publix cashier represents the average person working in Vero’s service industry and living in one of Vero’s modest mainland neighborhoods.
Hillman earned some credit and grassroots support from Vero’s old guard who don’t like the direction the city is going when she filed suit for alleged election violations last fall. The city settled, and that’s the reason this slightly screwy election is taking place in late February. Of the nearly $10,500 Hillman raised this election cycle, she contributed only a couple hundred dollars worth of in-kind donations.
The donors who support Hillman are a total throwback, with the spouses of three former Vero officials – Debra Fromang’s husband David, the late Sabe Abell’s wife Karen and Jay Kramer’s wife Alla – on the list, as well as former mayor and county commissioner Caroline Ginn. Hillman’s motto is “Vero Strong” and she calls herself a fighter for Vero’s historic neighborhoods and parks. Her campaign video says residents can “save Vero” by voting for Hillman.
Heady has run for office so many times we lost count. He does not raise money or post yard signs or send mailers. He’s got name recognition from one two-year term on the council, and from more than two decades of being a professional contrarian. Heady’s mission is to ask the questions nobody else asks and to challenge most everything the City of Vero Beach does, either from the podium or in court.
The three people elected will join Mayor Harry Howle, and Councilman Val Zudans. Vice Mayor Lange Sykes did not run for re-election. There is no early voting this time around. City residents who haven’t already voted by mail can go to the polls on Election Day, Tuesday, Feb. 26.