Politics (not) in the park event draws crowd to meet candidates

VERO BEACH — About 150 people piled into the Vero Beach Heritage Center Wednesday night to take what could be a final look at candidates on the Aug. 14 primary ballot before early voting starts on Saturday.

The event, hosted by the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, was set to be held in Pocahantas Park but was moved indoors for fear of it being too hot in the park. As it turned out, rain would have posed more of an issue than the heat as it began to sprinkle as the event got underway.

Candidates purchased table space at $150 per table to display campaign materials and greet voters inside the hall. The Heritage Center was awash with red, white and blue signs, banners, bumper stickers, fliers, business cards, buttons and T-shirts emblazoned with candidates’ names.

Thirteen candidates for county office participated in person. Congressman Bill Posey sent a representative of his campaign to speak for him. Of the Republican candidates on the primary ballot, only Commissioner Bob Solari opted out of the event and did not send a surrogate to speak in his place. Solari has skipped several candidate forums in the past few weeks.

The only candidate who appeared on stage who is not on the Aug. 14 ballot was County Commission District 3 candidate Tony Donadio. Donadio is on the Nov. 6 ballot as a non-party affiliated candidate because he changed his registration from Democrat to Republican too late to enter the Republican primary.

The victor of the Republican contest between Bea Gardner and Tim Zorc will face the non-party-affiliated Donadio in the general election.

Zorc spoke of his time growing up in Vero Beach, his business experience and his knowledge of the inner-workings of the county government. Gardner compared running for office to the Olympics and called herself the “peoples’ candidate.”

District 3 is the only open seat in the Aug. 14 primary. The other races pit an incumbent against a challenger. Incumbents reviewed their on-the-job experience and defended their records. Challengers touted their qualifications in the business world or in elected office and called for a change of leadership.

District 5 County Commission candidates Brian Heady and Nick Thomas — both a bit subdued compared to previous stump speeches — took shots at incumbent Solari’s claims of fiscal conservatism by pointing out county spending that they feel is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Tax Collector challenger Tom Lowther described his business experience and strong ties to the community, and also drove home his two main points of streamlining operations and better customer service. Incumbent Carole Jean Jordan noted that she’s diversified the agency, taken on driver license processing and come in under budget several years in a row, praising her staff for “doing a wonderful job.”

Property Appraiser opponents challenger Tom Dehn and incumbent David Nolte focused their comments on qualifications for the job and who has the best training to hold the office going forward.

Candidates for Sheriff and Supervisor of Elections also gave speeches much like the message they’ve been delivering on the stump for several months. Challengers Sandi Harpring and Bill McMullen offer differing approaches for running those agencies than incumbents Deryl Loar and Leslie Swan.

Fiscal responsibility and budget cutting were two recurring themes in the speeches, as were experience and knowledge to do the job for the Indian River County residents and taxpayers.

Overall, the two-minute speeches given by the candidates focused on their own positive attributes and positive things they would do if elected. The crowd was generally polite — except for two instances when cellular phone ringers went off and were permitted to ring at full volume during candidate speeches. Several rivals even applauded for each other.

The primaries for U.S. Congress, Tax Collector and County Commission Dist. 3 are closed to only Republicans because there are challengers, Barry Bernard and Tony Donadio, on the November ballot. The Dist. 5 County Commission, Supervisor of Elections, Sheriff and Property Appraiser races are open, which means voters of any party affiliation or no party affiliation may vote and the race will be decided at the primary.

Those who choose to vote early may do so beginning Saturday and ending Aug. 11 at three locations from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.:

– Supervisor of Elections office, 4375 43rd Ave., Vero Beach

– Indian River County Main Library, 1600 21st St, Vero Beach

– Sebastian City Hall, 1225 Main St., Sebastian

For more information on the primary, go to http://www.voteindianriver.com/

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