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Voters send mixed message in Vero Council election

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of November 6, 2014)

Vero Beach voters sent a mixed message to their city government by returning to office two incumbents with diametrically opposed positions, Jay Kramer and Pilar Turner, and electing a newcomer, Randy Old, who swears he’ll be his own man, despite the endorsement of the old-guard political machine.

Top vote getter Kramer explained that voters seem to hedge their bets on election day, a phenomenon that often happens in Vero.

“It seems as though the public enjoys tension in the government. Having Pilar and I on opposite sides of the issues, the public likes to see the yin and the yang of that discussion,” Kramer said. “As a politician, we’d like to have it all one way, but the public likes to have the balance.”

Was this election a sure thing for Kramer? He took forever to decide that he was even running for re-election, filing paperwork near the end of the qualifying period. "This one worried me a bit.  Realistically, look at all the negative campaigning that we had,” he said, adding that he thinks people should “just campaign on the issues.”

Kramer said he was pleased that voters were more impervious to what he calls the “special interest money” from outside the city than they were in previous elections. What about the electric issue? Kramer said the argument is no longer about whether or not a sale to Florida Power and Light is possible. To him, it’s just a campaign slogan at this point.

Speaking of campaign slogans, the “Keep Vero Vero” did not succeed in turning the whole City Council back to officials who follow the lead of the city staff and who prefer the status quo to any major reforms.

Old, the second highest vote getter on Tuesday, was staunchly supported by the throwback crowd, by the Indian River Neighborhood Association and others who don’t expect Old to rock Vero’s boat.

“There are an awful lot of issues to tackle. I’d very much like to get involved in some long-range planning, but I really want to get my feet wet first,” Old said.

Old said he’s eager to join Mayor Dick Winger, Vice-Mayor Kramer, and Councilwomen Turner and Amelia Graves on the dais when he’s sworn in on Nov. 18. “It’s really a good group. It’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to working with these people,” Old said. “We’ll get a lot done.”

Turner will likely be the odd one out on many votes over the coming year, but it’s not easy to shut her down when she’s determined to get the facts or the numbers behind a proposed plan of action.

The new dynamics on the council after Tuesday night, Turner said, will be challenging. “At four to one, I hope I’ll be at least able to get a motion on the floor, for discussion purposes if nothing else,” she said. “But I will continue to request financial analysis, looking at not only the short term but long term implications.”

Another big challenge looming for the so-called “new” council is the pending lawsuit filed against Vero by the Town of Indian River Shores over alleged unreasonable electric rates and bad management practices.

“I guess it will go to court,” Turner said, “and I’m afraid the implications for the city will be very serious.  I will do my best to try to protect the city’s financial interest in any way I can.”

Turner said Brian Heady, who came in last this time around but always makes discussion on the stump more interesting, called to congratulate her. “He said he would be at council meetings asking questions. That’s what we need.”

Another also-ran, Charlie Wilson, said he saw Tuesday’s vote – with him left out of the top three – as possibly the final referendum on the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light.

“The good thing about this election was either I get elected and I have to try and complete the sale, or I don’t get elected and the public has made their decision that they don’t want me to do it. Either way I am okay,” Wilson said.

“The choice was clear in this election and the public has made their choice. It was a good hard-fought campaign. We didn’t leave anything on the table. I spent every penny in my campaign account and in my personal account. There is not a stamp left in this building,” he said. “It really is a relief to be done with it.”

Insurance agent and Vero Code Enforcement Board member Harry Howle ran alongside Turner and Wilson. Both were supported by those who have historically backed the sale of Vero Electric.

“It’s been fun,” Howle said. And he’s more than aware that Vero holds City Council elections every year, and that seats now held by Mayor Dick Winger and Councilwoman Amelia Graves will be up for grabs next year. “This may not be the last time you’ve heard from me.”

Candidate Jack Shupe was not reachable for comment Tuesday night as results came in revealing that he had come up short, finishing next to last in the vote total.

Staff Writers Ray McNulty, Michelle Genz, Steve Thomas, Mary Schenkel and correspondent Christina Tascon contributed to this report.