The flow of Marco voters to polls was a slow trickle Tuesday afternoon after heavy early voting. Watch »
Tuesday’s election was a historic one, with 72 percent of Marco’s 12,327 voters turning out to cast ballots in what was possibly the most bitterly divided race in the city’s short history.
Statistics just topped the 1997 incorporation vote, which drew 71 percent of registered voters to polls in the sixth vote on cityhood.
The island is calming back down after the excitement of Tuesday, but residents are still eager to share their impressions of the race and their feelings moving forward. Elation and anger are both on display as the voters face the prospect of five more years of sewer installation.
However, many residents are just relieved that turnout was high and the people had a chance to make their feelings known.
“I think it was good for the city,” said Pat Reese, a full-time resident. “The guys that ran against the winners had their opinion and got their chance to see what voters thought.”
Russ Colombo, president of political action committee Preserve Our Paradise, said he feels that the ultimate opinion that prevailed was misinformed, however.
“My sense is that a misinformed majority happened to prevail in this particular instance,” Colombo said. “I have to underscore the fact that I’m so disappointed that so many people that voted are not aware of where this election’s results will take Marco Island.”
He said he fears the island will lose its residential nature in the future as a result of the election.
But, he added, “I’m always hopeful that things will change. My biggest hope in the world, right this instant, is that the new City Council will prove my fears unfounded.”
Colombo was the driving force behind an unsuccessful attempt in 2007 to place a referendum on the ballot approving or rejecting the performance of the city manager. Had the petition passed, the vote would have decided whether the city manager would retain his or her job.
The City of Marco Island is in the middle of a search to replace former City Manager Bill Moss, who left to take up the same position in Naples at the start of the year. Recruiting for the position begins this month.
Long-time islander Keith Pershing said he believes some of the recent turmoil in the island’s political climate comes from the council not communicating fully with constituents.
“I think [the new council] needs to invite more participation,” he said. “There are ways available to communicate these days that are like no other time in history, and yet we don’t do it.”
Pershing said one smart move by the council would be to de-mystify council agendas by translating them into plain English and then collaborating with the Eagle to publish them each week.
“It would just be a synopsis of the city activities,” he said.
As Pershing sees it, Councilor Ted Forcht is the one councilor who already bridges the communication gap.
“He does an awesome job... he e-mails people with the agenda and his sub-notes, outlines what’s coming up and asks people what they think,” Pershing said.
George Schmidt, a Hideaway resident, said he is satisfied with the results, but hates to see the level of contention that dominated the months-long race for the four open council seats.
“It’s a sore point that they should be fighting so much,” he said. “I’m not happy with seeing all of the fighting that goes on, but I’m hoping these people will be able to make that stop.”
Marco Island Taxpayers Association President Fay Biles called the island “sadly divisive,” and said the new council will have to pull together to bring an end to the divisions.
Many people are hurting from the results of the election, she said, particularly with the knowledge that sewer installation will continue. She said she fears long-time residents will move off the island, particularly now that the property tax amendment allows homesteaded residents to take their tax savings with them.
“I feel bad for them because they’re having a tremendous expense putting in sewers,” she said. “I’m most worried about the widows who just don’t have the money to do it.”
Rancor runs so deep over the results, she said, that some residents are planning on cancelling their subscriptions to the Eagle, because of perceptions that the paper was biased and poorly directed in its endorsements. In a Jan. 11 editorial, the Eagle endorsed winning candidates Jerry Gibson, Frank Recker and Bill Trotter, as well as unsuccessful candidate Joe Batte.
Mario Sanchez, administrator of the high-profile Marco Island Blog, called the win a collaboration between “local special interests along with their allies in the regional and state bureaucracies.”
He said he believes that much of what was circulated in the lead-up to the election was misinformation.
“Democracy is such a great and wonderful thing,” he said. “The people actually get what they voted for. So, get ready.”
In contrast though, many residents are excited about what the future holds as a result of the vote.
“Marco needs to remain a destination island as well,” Thomas said. “Business owners need snowbirds and visitors, and so does the island as a whole.”
He said complaints about traffic congestion have already been eased by the recent roadwork completions, and much like the drive down Collier Boulevard, he sees smooth sailing ahead.
“All of the candidates really deserve credit for putting their issues out there,” said Steve Stefanides, one campaign worker for the four victorious candidates. “People really wanted a referendum on the sewer and number of things, and I think they got it.”
Reese said he thinks some of the unsuccessful candidates might have had a better chance if they had not campaigned arm-in-arm.
“If either side had run as individuals, I think Butch Neylon might have gotten elected,” he said.
Jack Patterson, who had a brief run for council before bowing out during the qualifying period, said he is ultimately happy with the result.
“I didn’t much like the idea of those four (Batte, Guidry, Hall and Neylon) running on one ticket,” he said. “They’re good people, but I’m happy it didn’t turn out that way.”
Both sides in the race essentially campaigned together, stumped together and even appeared on signs together. Some residents reported splitting their votes, while many picked a slate of four and stuck with it.
Long-time resident Tommy Francese said he is just relieved to know sewer installation will be completed.
“I think the island guys that got elected will follow through on finishing the sewer work,” he said. “It would have cost too much money to stop now.”
As for the island’s pre-election divisiveness, Dave Thomas said he’d like to see harmony emerge out of the split.
“People can do it if they try,” he said. “It’s a possibility, even if you just smile and say hello to your neighbor. We learn that in fifth grade, and seem to forget it when we get older.”
Staff writers Roger LaLonde and Quentin Roux contributed to this report.