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Brent Batten: Listen up, Fiala has made her choice in race to succeed her

Brent Batten
Naples Daily News

When Donna Fiala talks, people listen.

At least that’s the hope of Jacob Winge, the Collier County Commission District 1 candidate who has earned the endorsement of Fiala, holder of the seat since 2000.

Fiala, a Republican, wrestled over who to endorse for the better part of a month.

Five Republicans are vying for the party’s nomination to be decided in the August primary. The winner will face a Democrat — John Jenkins is the only one who has filed to run at this point — in November.

“It was a tough decision,” Fiala said. “There were a couple of those guys that are pretty good.”

Jacob Winge

She settled on Winge at a meeting of her Islands Advisory Board last week.

With about eight advisers from Marco Island, Isles of Capri and Goodland around her, Fiala said they worked through the candidates. “We narrowed it down to two and then to one. That was Jacob Winge,” she said.

Winge, 27, wasn’t yet born when the iconic “When E.F. Hutton talks” commercials saturated America’s airwaves. But he understands the concept. A respected voice can turn heads and cause people to take notice.

“It’s incredibly humbling,” Winge said of the endorsement. “I really appreciate her putting her trust in my vision.”

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Fiala said the consensus of her advisory group was that Winge would listen to the constituents of District 1, which covers a large swath of unincorporated Collier County including East Naples, Golden Gate Estates, Goodland and Isles of Capri. The city of Marco Island is also part of District 1.

Listening has been Fiala’s philosophy as a commissioner. “Always, always, always listen to what the people have to say. You don’t tell them what they want. You listen to what they need.”

Fiala described Winge as “a young person with an old soul.”

Brent Batten

When it comes to civic involvement, that assessment bears out.

Winge, a Collier County native and graduate of Barron Collier High School and then the former Edison State College, now Florida SouthWestern State College, began volunteering with the county museum system as a teenager. He’s served on several county advisory boards and has been president of the East Naples Civic Association.

He ran unsuccessfully for Collier County School Board in 2014. He now works in property management.

If elected, he plans on emulating Fiala in at least one respect: “At her core, she’s a listener. I think that’s so important for local government officials to be listeners. We don’t run into (U.S. Sen.) Marco Rubio at Publix. But we do interact with our local officials,” he said.

Fiala’s endorsement by no means guarantees success for Winge.

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The crowded field includes candidates with more professional experience, deeper political ties and larger campaign treasuries.

They include:

Mark Batchelor, an Air Force veteran with executive experience with companies including Xerox and Topcall Corp. So far Batchelor has raised about $21,000 in campaign cash donations.

Cliff Donenfeld, who is vice chairman of the Collier County Republican Party and has a background in business, including real estate, apparel, restaurants and an art gallery. His campaign contributions stand at about $5,000.

William T. Douglass, a retired lieutenant with the Greater Naples Fire and Rescue District, which covers much of county commission District 1. He was instrumental in re-establishing the Naples Jaycees in 1989 after a period of dormancy. Current donations amount to about $19,000.

Rick LoCastro, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate who retired from the service as a colonel. After that he was chief operating officer for Physicians Regional Medical Center in Collier County. He now runs a business and health care consulting firm. He has raised about $48,000.

Winge’s campaign contributions stand at about $7,000.

Jenkins, the lone Democrat in the field, has raised $775.

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Other potential candidates have until June 12 to get on the August ballot.

Fiala doesn’t plan on being active in the campaign, focusing instead on finishing her final term in office. Aside from announcing her endorsement in the media and in her Donna’s Tidbits newsletter, she’s going to be an interested observer in the race.

“I’m not going to go on the campaign trail. I’m so darned busy as it is. It’s up to him (Winge) to go out and win,” she said.

(Connect with Brent Batten at brent.batten@naplesnews.com or via Facebook.)