School board headed to runoff
By Steve Estes
Griffiths tops board field in District 2: Welsh in District 3
A former Monroe County school principal and a long-time resident watchdog of the Monroe County School Board emerged as the final two candidates standing Tuesday night for the right to battle each other for the District Three School Board seat.
Retired Principal John Welsh outpolled four other competitors Tuesday during the primary election to stand atop the field, but fell far short of the 50 percent he needed to earn the seat outright.
Welsh garnered nearly 33 percent of the votes cast in the school board primary, a five-percent margin over Capt. Ed Davidson who finished in second place with almost 28 percent of the vote.
The nearest candidate to those two was current Keys AHEC Administrator Michael Cunningham with 22.5 percent.
Retired attorney Mark Peterson and former schools Audit and Finance Committee member Larry Murray finished well back in the pack with nine percent and eight percent respectively.
The five were running to see who would win the seat vacated by retiring two-term incumbent Duncan Mathewson.
Even if one of the five had amassed more than 50 percent, however, the race would have continued to November so the winner could face off against perennial candidate and write-in contestant Sloan Bashinsky.
“Ed will be a formidable opponent,” said Welsh. “I am humbled by this entire experience.”
Even though he was one of the favorites for the seat based on his experience in the school district, Welsh said he was “never really confident. I’m just happy to be here.”
Welsh said he ran his campaign by “listening to the voters and carrying the torch for what they had to say.”
Welsh drew his strongest support from Key West, where he was the high school principal for part of his career, and polled behind Davidson almost everywhere else, but not by enough to lose his overall lead.
“This is a long county to campaign in,” said Davidson. “And it gets longer every week.”
Both men said they knew it would be nearly impossible to poll a 50 percent majority with five candidates in the race.
Davidson says that it will be up to the voters to decide in November whether they want to trust a man from inside the system, with knowledge of that system in Welsh, or in someone with other governmental experience who hasn’t been part of the culture of the school district in himself.
“The teachers are doing a fantastic job. We don’t have academic problems. We don’t have individual school problems,” said Davidson. “We have central administration problems and those can be fixed with the right policies. We also have some financial issues to fix.”
The school board sets policy for the district staff, policies that are then carried out by the Superintendent of Schools which for the first time in the district’s history will someone appointed by the board who works for the board.
Prior to this, superintendents were elected and shared power with the board.
Both Welsh and Davidson said the current board made the right decision in hiring Mark Porter as the first appointed superintendent, and both said they looked forward to the challenges of moving Monroe schools into the future.
There is another school board seat up for grabs this year, one that 20-year veteran Andy Griffiths hopes to hold on to.
Griffiths was the top vote-getter in the District Two race Tuesday, though it surprised some pundits that he didn’t make the magical 50 percent-plus number that would have given him the seat outright.
Griffiths tallied 47 percent of the votes cast, enough to finish atop the heap but not enough to put away second-place finisher Yvette Mira-Talbott, a political newcomer who received 38.5 percent of the vote. Howard Hubbard was eliminated from November’s competition when he finished a distant third with 14.5 percent of the votes cast.
Because the school board races are non-partisan, every registered voter could cast a ballot and the top two vote-getters move to November if no one polls 50 percent plus one.
Mira-Talbott carried most of the Key West area, but Griffiths was considerably stronger in the Middle and Upper Keys.
“I got what I was looking for to get this far and have a chance to win in November,” said Mira-Talbott. “I will continue to push those things that are important to me as a parent with children in the system the rest of the way.”
“No campaign is an easy one,” said Griffiths. “But if we have purpose, a positive attitude and passion about what we do we can succeed.”
Griffiths has been on the board longer than any other seated member and was in office during the recent financial scandal issues that plagued the school district.
“We are on the right track, and can only get better from here,” said Griffiths.
Voters Tuesday also set up the final battles in November for two seats on the Mosquito Control District Board.
In District Three, incumbent Steve Smith held onto his seat for now with a narrow victory over challenger Tim Root in the Democratic primary for the right to face Republican Steve Hammond in the fall.
In District One, long-time board member Joan Lord-Papy is retiring. She will be replaced by either Jill Cranney-Gage, who outpolled Maggie Gutierrez by a wide margin in the Republican primary, or Green Party candidate Ollie Kofoid. That winner will be determined in November.
Monroe voters also went with the rest of the state in selecting Republican Connie Mack and Democrat Bill Nelson, the incumbent, to vie for the US Senate seat opposite seated Republican Marco Rubio.
Nelson and Mack both handily won in Monroe County and statewide for the right ot go head-to-head in November.