VERO BEACH — With less than seven weeks to go before Nov. 4, the field of hopefuls vying for what has become a wholly thankless job – a seat on the Vero Beach City Council – has swelled to seven, including two incumbents, two colorful re-tread former councilmen, two newcomers hoping for a promotion from commissions and one candidate who placed fifth in 2009.
Incumbents Pilar Turner and Jay Kramer, the current vice-mayor, are asking to keep their seats, while former mayor Craig Fletcher – understandably citing severe burnout after a total of four terms on council over two decades – is not seeking re-election, leaving one seat wide open.
Turner thinks residents will want to keep her in City Hall to “shine a light” on what goes on there – especially with regard to finances.
She’s been criticized for her efforts to trim city spending, and for giving voice to the concerns of utility customers who live in the County and Indian River Shores, but Turner says, “I feel their frustration” with high electric rates and the fact that the proposed sale to Florida Power & Light seems dead in the water.
Kramer was ushered into office and into the mayor’s seat in 2010 with Operation Clean Sweep, but turned out to be no great friend of the pro-sale advocates who supported him.
After being the sole cheerleader for selling off Vero’s outside electric customers, now Kramer is pitching himself as the person to guard Vero from being torn asunder by those who want to sell the electric utility to FPL and deprive Vero of its lucrative cash cow.
Candidates in Vero Beach run at large, not directly against each other for a specific seat, so the top three vote-getters win.
This means that voters’ second and third votes down the ballot count just as much as their first choice. Looking down the ballot from the two incumbents are Randy Old, Brian Heady, Charlie Wilson, Jack Shupe and Harry Howle.
Old, despite raising $30,000 in the pre-qualifying period – a good chunk of it from his Riomar neighbors, from historical enthusiasts familiar with his work on the Old Vero Man site, and from voters who have in the past supported the causes and candidates of the Indian River Neighborhood Association – says he’s his own man and that he won’t be co-opted by any special interest group.
Mayor Dick Winger has endorsed Old, but Old says Winger is not an old chum, just a recent acquaintance.
“I’ve really always been my own person” said Olds, adding that he’s never held a leadership position in the IRNA.
If Old is a man of his word as he seems to be, he could make an intriguing, and definitely a well-funded, contender.
The rest of the pack will be scrambling this month, or writing loan checks to their campaigns to begin to play catch-up to Old’s ability to post signs, send mailers and run ads.
In 2009, when there were also seven people on the ballot and a deep anti-incumbent sentiment, Wilson garnered the most votes, with Heady coming in second. But this year, despite their extreme confidence, these two will most likely get second or third votes from supporters of Turner as the trio shares a solid track record of trying to extricate Vero from the electric business.
Heady and Turner have also both crusaded for transparency and accountability – Turner by more conventional means and Heady by any means available to him, including his tell-all book, “Liars, Cheats, and Thieves.”
Only 2,275 people voted in that off-off-year election in 2009, about 21 percent of those registered in Vero.
This year, with the tight governor’s race and the medical marijuana referendum on the ballot evoking passions on both sides of the issue, turnout is expected to be significantly higher.
Heady said he hopes to still have the confidence of the core group of 700 or so loyal people who vote for him each and every time he runs, plus supporters he picks up along the campaign trail.
With seven people in the mix, Heady could squeak in if he doesn’t do anything to directly offend either the Turner supporters or the Kramer supporters.
Kramer is unlikely to say anything negative about Heady, as the two have remained friends these past five years despite their sometimes differing opinions.
Both Wilson and Heady pummeled Jack Shupe in 2009, Shupe getting about a third of Wilson’s votes and less than half of Heady’s to come in fifth.
But Shupe is being billed as part of a Kramer-led “Keep Vero Vero” ticket, with those who oppose Turner and Wilson being urged to vote for Kramer, Randy Old and Shupe.
The challenge for voters will be to find out if Shupe, who now serves on the Vero Beach Utilities Commission, brings anything more to the table than he brought in 2009.
Local insurance agent Harry Howle seems to be the wildcard on the ticket, as he filed in the final hours of the qualifying period on Friday and, unlike many of his fellow candidates, is not a household name.
Howle reportedly will have the support of Vero’s fiscal conservatives, which may also get him some of Turner’s second or third votes.