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Vero election field uncertain; Winger fundraising leader

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of August 15, 2013)

On paper, Councilman Dick Winger is the only one signed up to run for City Council in November, but over the next month the field could expand to a half-dozen people vying for two seats.

The official qualifying period starts Aug. 22, but whoever gets in the race at this late date will be hard pressed to catch Winger in the money game. At of the end of June, he already had raised $10,000. In 2011, Winger raised more than $14,000, blanketing the city with campaign signs and mailers.

The people bankrolling Winger’s campaign could explain his passionate pleas to “Keep Vero Vero.”

While city officials grapple not only with completing the sale of Vero electric utility to Florida Power and Light to lower electric rates, but also with creating an atmosphere where businesses can thrive and where workers can find good-paying jobs, Winger’s supporters hail mostly from Old Riomar and almost exclusively list “retired” as their occupation.

Expected to join Winger on the status quo ticket is Vero Isles resident and former City Council member Warren Winchester, who picked up the papers needed to open a campaign account last week.

Winchester has long been a standard bearer for opponents of the electric sale, but recently he’s made the fight personal, calling the pro-sale council members “incompetent” and “self-serving” in a January 2013 letter to the editor.

If elected, this would be Winchester’s third venture into public life in the last 30 years. He served one term in the 1980s and one term in the 1990s.

Former councilman Ken Daige and his recycled campaign photograph have also popped up recently, so his candidacy is always a possibility. With defeats in 2009, 2010 and 2011 under his belt, he hasn’t been a serious contender for some time.

Career candidate and novelist Brian Heady also sees himself as a man of the people and a crusader for all points of view to be heard. He served from 2009 to 2011 and ran unsuccessfully for both county commission and city council last year. He confirmed that he’s running, but don’t expect to see many Heady signs around town. Heady hasn’t filed paperwork to open a campaign account because he’s seeking no contributions.

After what’s been described as shameless self-promotion to get people to pay $20 to buy his book, “Liars, Cheats, and Thieves,” he’s vowed not to hawk himself as a candidate.

Council member Tracy Carroll, who did raise substantial cash in 2010 and 2011 from local businesspeople and proponents of the sale of Vero electric, said she’s picked up paperwork to open her campaign account and will turn it in soon. The target of an unsuccessful recall effort, Carroll and her husband John have come under scrutiny for renting a Central Beach home they own in what both city and state officials say is open violation of municipal code.

Vero Beach Utilities Commission Chairman Scott Stradley is already being questioned about his city residency and he hasn’t even decided whether to run. He solidly supports the sale of Vero electric to FPL but said he’s tried to be very careful to keep his role on the commission non-political. He’s set to report to the council Aug. 20 about important utility issues and may declare his candidacy after that.

Speculation abounds about who else might get into the race. One name tossed about was radio personality Rhett Palmer, who is rumored to have felt the push to run from the “Keep Vero Vero” forces.

“I had some people try to persuade me, but I’m not interested in getting into the fray,” Palmer said.

If Carroll and Stradley represent voters wanting to sell the utility and Winger, Winchester and Daige all take up the opposition banner, November’s crowded field could inadvertently put Heady back into office.

Qualifying opens Aug. 22 and runs through Sept. 6.