All three Lee County commission incumbents cleared their first — and perhaps largest — re-election hurdles on Tuesday.
Bob Janes, Ray Judah and Frank Mann all held off stiff challenges by comfortable margins, sending the three Republicans on to face unaffiliated candidates on November 4.
“I see that as confirmation of the direction of what was referred to as ‘the new commission’ two years ago,” said Mann, who defeated Shawn Seliger by grabbing 61 percent of the vote in the District 5 race. “My theme’s been quality of life, and it tangled me up with the big developers. I think collectively this commission’s been focused on the environment and the entire quality of life.”
Judah, who earned 66 percent of the vote to defeat Anita Cereceda in the District 3 race, echoed that. He also said he felt good winning a Republican primary he felt the local party tried to twist against him.
“The chairman really tried to manipulate it, but the mainstream Republicans came out and supported us,” he said.
Janes, 76, survived the closest race beating Cape Coral Mayor Eric Feichthaler, 36, by a mere 4 percent and less than 1,700 votes in the District 1 race. It’s the second time Janes has defeated the sitting mayor of Cape Coral, the county’s largest city. Gerard David Jr., 54, a transportation company owner, finished a distant third, with 4,427 votes, which Feichthaler said may have changed the outcome of the race. Janes will now face Alan “AJ” Boyd and Carla Johnston in November.
Janes said that he had felt some uncertainty because you never know what voters will do.
“I didn’t know if the turnout would be low to large, or who would turn out, or whether there was an anti-incumbent type of vote,” he said.
Feichthaler said he thought he was hurt by the presence of a third candidate.
“If I had his votes, I won,” he said.
Feichthaler also pointed out Janes took a big lead among the absentee voters, a lead he held throughout.
“We did lose on absentee ballots substantially, and those are people who weren’t even here to see the race,” he said.
David ran a low-budget campaign, and said he’ll be back.
“I’m the perpetual candidate,” he said. “I’ll be there in 2010 running against (Commissioner Tammy Hall).”
Judah also echoed Mann, bemoaning what both branded negative campaigning.
“What’s particularly pleasing to me about tonight is it was probably the most negative campaign I’ve ever experienced — and I’ve been in 14 elections — but two years ago I was in a clean campaign and I got 61 percent,” Mann said. “This year my opponent spent $140,000 in development money and didn’t make a dent in my base.”
Cereceda, 47, a Fort Myers Beach businesswoman and former mayor, lost to Judah for the second time. She owns and runs two Beach businesses. The first mayor the town ever had, she first ran against Judah in 2000.
Judah, 54, is already the longest tenured commissioner in Lee County history, and will look for his sixth term against San Carlos Park resident and retired university president Les Cochran.
Judah was an environmental planner for the county before he ran in 1988. He won that race as a Democrat, and was re-elected as a Republican ever since, showing a broad appeal across party lines.
Despite raising more money than his opponent, Seliger, 38, ran a distant second to longtime politician Mann. An attorney, Seliger is a relative newcomer, having moved to Lee County less than five years ago. This was his first run for elected office.
Mann, 66, was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1974. He served eight years in the House, then four as a state senator. He was later appointed to the South Florida Water Management District board of governors. In the 1990s he served half terms as a county commissioner and on the Lee Memorial Health System board of directors.
Mann has two challengers in November, Steve “Sonny” Haas and Richard Kuhn.
Cereceda said she was surprised and a little dismayed by the turnout.
“All day long as we went from poll to poll I was amazed at how few people there were,” she said.
During the campaign she heard a mantra that people wanted change, Cereceda said, but that didn’t hold true at the polls.
Seliger said he too was surprised there weren’t more votes for change.
“I think it also reflects the number of people that came out,” he said. “It’s very disappointing. I think apathy was the biggest opponent in this race.” --Charlie Whitehead