Two-way races in District 3, 5 County Commission primaries
By Chuck Ballaro
Two of the longest serving members on the Board of County Commissioners face challengers in the Aug. 14 primary.
In District 3, Republicans Ray Judah and Larry Kiker face off, with the winner to face Charlie Whitehead, of no party affiliation, in November.
In District 5, Republicans Frank Mann and Sonny Haas will face off, with the winner taking on Independence Party of Florida candidate Matt Miller.
Residence: Unincorporated Lee County
Occupation: County Commissioner
Judah’s accomplishments over his 24 years as commissioner are numerous. Therefore, he believes the people should bring him back for a seventh term.
“For me, it’s been a series of four-year contracts, subject to approval by the voters of Lee County,” the incumbent said. “I bring depth and breadth of experience and I’m battle tested.”
Judah said he would continue to bring in more diverse jobs to Lee County and champion environmental causes.
Judah, who chaired the commission in 2008-09 during the heat of the recession, said it was projects like Jet Blue Park that allowed Lee County to thrive.
“Jet Blue Park provided for tens of thousands of jobs using tourist tax money and will account for $750 million over the next 30 years,” Judah said.
Judah said he would continue to find ways to reduce county expenses. As far as using reserves to balance the budget, he is unapologetic.
“I have supported reducing the county workforce by 444 positions and reduced operating expenses by $94 million over the last five years,” Judah said. “We built up our reserves so we had them during the tough times to provide for services we need.”
Residence: Fort Myers Beach
Occupation: Real estate broker
Kiker has been mayor of Fort Myers Beach for five years and said he will put his experience in business to good use if elected.
“I hope to bring a businesslike approach to government at the county level. We need that more than ever,” Kiker said. “We have a budget crisis and we’re overspending. We’ll be out of reserves in four or five years.”
Kiker said he would formalize the process and get everyone involved, as well as make it easier for Lee County to do business by relaxing regulations.
“I’ll devote special attention to local business. There are a lot of unemployed and 80 percent of jobs created is in business,” Kiker said. “Reducing regulations will make it easier. We should reward, not punish those who want to succeed.”
Kiker said it’s also time Lee County rediscover what makes it a top destination for tourists.
“We need to get back to basics with tourism. We spend 20 percent on baseball on 3 percent of the market,” Kiker said. “Eighty percent come here for the sun and beaches and we should concentrate our money on that.”
Occupation: roofing contractor
Haas is taking a second shot at Mann, losing to him in the primary four years ago. He said he is tired of the commissioners treating Lehigh as a second-class citizen.
“Lehigh is turning into a slum. It’s devalued and nobody wants to live or drive through there,” Haas said. “I want to clean up Lehigh and bring up property values and widen SR82 to increase the tax base and let it take care of itself.”
Haas has gone on the attack against his opponent, who he said is against progress.
“I’m not running for what Mann is doing, I’m running for what he’s not doing,” Haas said. “He’s bragged about standing in front of bulldozers, like he has the power as commissioner to stop everything.”
Besides helping Lehigh, Haas also wants to bring in more jobs, give Cape Coral a third seat on the board, and end the 3-2 votes that come from the commissioners.
“I want to facilitate getting along with the board. Continuity is Job No. 1,” Haas said. “I want to crank up the economic machine. One house permit in Cape Coral puts 1,500 people to work. Jobs are a priority.”
Occupation: County commissioner
Frank Mann, a lifelong Lee County resident, has served six years as county commissioner over two terms, including two years in the 1990s. He said he will run on his record of fiscal conservatism.
“I’ve got the time, energy and experience in a city I’ve called home. I have something to offer,” the incumbent said.
Mann will also run on his platform of fiscal prudence, the environment and planned growth. Prudence is especially important and will be the primary focus.
“I haven’t supported a single budget because of the way we spend our reserves. No one has worked harder to bring the budget into balance without reserves,” Mann said. “The record shows I’ve pushed for more cuts, but we got outvoted 3-2.”
Unlike the candidates, who have criticized the building of Jet Blue Park and tourism priorities, Mann said tourism has never been better.
“Tourism seems to be working. The last two years have been the best we’ve ever had in spite of a recession,” Mann said. “Baseball and beaches have worked better than before. I don’t know what we would have done without it.”