Ramsay becomes newest top cop

By Steve Estes

The man hand-picked by retiring Monroe County Sheriff Bob Peryam to lead the organization after his departure will be doing just that as Col. Rick Ramsay coasted to victory Tuesday.

Peryam has endorsed and supported Ramsay throughout the campaign against retired Deputy Tom Peteck, and voters responded by giving Ramsay 57 percent of the votes in a huge turnout.

Ramsay carried nearly every precinct in the Upper Keys and Marathon, basically split Key West with Peteck and stayed close in Peteck’s stronghold in the northern part of the Lower Keys.

“I am very thankful for the organization that helped get me here and the supporters who voted for me,” said Ramsay.

The Republican said that job one when he takes office in January will be to find a replacement for himself.

“It takes a strong second to make the day-to-day operations of the department work,” he said.

Ramsay said the win hadn’t really sunk in as of early Tuesday evening when he was declared the winner. “I’m glad it’s over. I met some interesting people along the way.”

Ramsay said he had to develop a thicker skin along the campaign trail, something that will stand him in good stead as he takes the office of Sheriff as he found himself treated as an incumbent and constantly defending the current operation of the Sheriff’s Office.

He admits there may be some tearing of the fabric of the agency after a controversial primary where he bested two current deputies and the general election where he bested a recently retired deputy.

“We will work on mending some fences once I have the job,” he said.

Peteck thanked his supporters for their months of hard work and said he just wished that the race could have been closer. He hasn’t said what he intends to do in the near future with retirement facing him after nearly 25 years in the agency.

Supervisor of Elections

Current Deputy Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin, a Democrat, waltzed to a relatively easy victory Tuesday over Republican challenger Barry Gibson, a former Key West City Commissioner who gave up nearly certain reelection to that post to pursue the elections post.

Griffin amassed nearly 4,000 more votes than her competitor in the race to replace long-time Supervisor Harry Sawyer who will be retiring when his term is up in January.

Griffin said she was thankful for those who voted to support her candidacy and promised to continue to run smooth elections just like those Sawyer has presided over for nearly two decades.

For his part, Gibson didn’t rule out a future run at political office.

“I had a lot of fun, met a lot of great people, and put a lot of miles on the car during this campaign,” said Gibson.

Clerk of Courts

Current Sheriff’s Office Financial Officer Amy Heavilin breezed to victory as the next Clerk of Courts Tuesday evening to replace the retiring Danny Kolhage, a 29-year government veteran who was elected unopposed to a Monroe Board of County Commission seat in District One. Kolhage will move into the commission slot this week and attend his first meeting Nov. 20. Though not slated to take office until January, Heavilin will become the de facto Clerk next week if Gov. Rick Scott appoints her to the interim for Kolhage.

Heavilin garnered just over 67 percent of the vote against Democratic challenger “Trinidad” Joe Allen.

“It’s a spectacular feeling,” she said. “I’m looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work right away. There are some big shoes to fill with Danny leaving, but I will work hard to provide the best service to this community as is possible.”

Heavilin carried every precinct on her way to an easy victory over a challenger who has run for multiple offices in the past without any success.

Mosquito Control District

The race for the Mosquito Control District One seat was over as soon as Sawyer reported the absentee and early voting numbers with Republican Jill Cranney-Gage grabbing a 38-point lead that she never relinquished as the precincts reported throughout the evening.

Her opponent, Green Party candidate Ollie Kofoid, said that he would not be a stranger to mosquito control despite the loss.

“They will continue to hear my views at the meetings on genetically modified mosquitoes,” he said.

Kofoid added that he knew a third-party candidacy was a long shot when he entered the race, but “It was a good race. We kept it focused on the issues and I want to thank everyone for the support.”

He said that it would now be up to the voters to hold the winning candidates to their promises.

“County-wide elections are tough,” said Cranney-Gage, a novice politician. “It takes a super team to do everything you have to do.”

Cranney-Gage said she appreciated the faith Monroe County voters had put in her to help lead the mosquito control district over the next four years.

The District Three Mosquito Control seat was one of the mail-biting races of the evening as Democratic incumbent Steve Smith barely held off a challenge from Republican Steve Hammond to retain his seat on the board.

Smith won the election with a 500-vote margin after more than 36,000 ballots were cast in the county.

“It is humbling to be involved in such a close race,” said Smith. “But I want to thank all those who voted for me and for the trust that puts in me to help lead the district into the future.”

Monroe County School Board

As of presstime Wednesday, officials were doing a recount of the votes in the District 3 School Board race to determine a winner between former principal John Welsh and schools activist Ed Davidson.

After hanging onto a slim lead most of the night, Welsh fell 115 votes behind when the final absentee ballots were counted from Key Largo and if the recount holds up those numbers Davidson will be the winner.

Welsh said that he was surprised by the amount of effort it took to mount a county-wide campaign for any elected office. “The support has been tremendous.”

Davidson said that if his lead held up, he would try and usher in a new culture on the school board where fiscal accountability was paramount and ensuring that classrooms were the recipient of every available dollar.

For the District 2 School Board seat, voters easily returned 20-year incumbent Andy Griffiths to his job with 61.5 percent of the ballots cast. Challenger Yvette Mira-Talbott, a newcomer to politics, said she appreciated the support she had gained during the race, but knew that taking on an established candidate like Griffiths was an uphill battle.

“I truly thought the people of Monroe County were ready for change, but I’m proud of the good, clean race we ran on both sides.”

Griffiths, who will be serving his sixth term as a member of the school board, becomes the longest serving local elected official with the retirement of Kolhage from the clerk’s office.

“I had to work harder this campaign than at any time in the past,” said Griffiths. “There have probably been 100 negative headlines about the school board in the local newspapers in the last four years and as an incumbent I had to work hard to overcome that perception that the board was just incompetent or uncaring.”

Griffiths said that this race involved a lot of getting out there “and meeting with individual voters to tell them the facts behind the stories and the things we have done to rectify the problems we’ve had.”

Griffiths said the campaign trail also contained some surprises for him this go-around. “If I hadn’t had to work so hard I would never have discovered taco Tuesday in the Lower Keys.”

State Attorney

Following up on her surprise ouster of incumbent Dennis Ward in the Democratic primary, Catherin Vogel waltzed to victory in Tuesday’s general election, keeping her old boss, former State Attorney Mark Kohl on the sidelines.

Vogel turned in a strong showing, garnering 56 percent of the vote to Kohl’s 44 percent.

“The voters of Monroe County have placed a lot of faith in me to lead this office into the future and it feels wonderful right now,” she said.

When asked if she might consider Kohl as an assistant, Vogel said that she would always try to do what’s right for Monroe County.

“I have no plans to fire anybody right now, so we’ll see how that pans out and if there might be a spot for Mark in the future.”

Republican Holly Raschein will be the Key’s new representative in the state House with a victory over challenger Democrat Ian Whitney. Raschein carried the Keys handily, but had to wait anxiously as Whitney cut into that lead during the returns from Miami-Dade County. District 120 spans all of Monroe and south Miami-Dade.

Raschein finished with 52.5 percent of the vote to Whitney’s 47.5 percent.

It will be a Bullard that takes the State Senate seat to represent the Keys as Dwight, son of term-limited Larcenia, blew past his opponent Republican Scott Hopes in the Miami-Dade portion of District 39 after Hopes left the Keys with a good lead.

Democrat Joe Garcia will be the man representing the Keys in the US House, knocking off Republican David Rivera in the effort to replace 20-year incumbent Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who lost the Keys in her district when the re-districting took place this year.

Keys voters agreed with the rest of the state and returned Democrat Bill Nelson to office as one of the two US Senators with a convincing win over Connie Mack.

And like the rest of Florida, Monroe County narrowly voted for President Barack Obama to be returned to office over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Obama went on to harvest 15 percent more Electoral College votes than needed to earn another four-year term.

Monroe voters also agreed overwhelmingly that the state should return the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority Board to an elected one rather than the current Governor-appointed board.

That vote, passed by 69 percent of the voters, was a straw vote. It will take an act of the state Legislature to change FKAA’s initial enabling legislation and an agreement from Gov. Rick Scott to actually make that change.

Many residents have been upset about the makeup of the water utility board where folks with strong Key West ties make up a majority of the board even though the Aqueduct serves the entire county.

Monroe residents also followed the rest of the state in turning back eight of 11 proposed state Constitutional Amendments. Those approved by voters included additional homestead exemptions for surviving spouses of military members and first-responders killed in the line of duty, and expansion of additional homestead exemptions for disabled military veterans and additional homestead exemptions for low-income senior citizens who earn less than $27,050 per year and have lived in the home for 25 years or more.

Voters rejected the other eight amendment proposals, including an attempt to wipe out the church/state separation clause in state statute to lead to a school voucher program, certifying into the Constitution an existing federal ban on using federal money to pay for abortions, an additional tangible property tax exemption for businesses, an attempt by the Republican-controlled legislature to be able to usurp the authority of judges when they did something the legislators didn’t like and a futile attempt to make the state exempt from the provisions of the federal Affordable Health Care Act and in conflict with federal mandates already upheld by the US Supreme Court.

Sawyer had predicted an 80 percent voter turnout, but the county didn’t get quite that high with a 72 percent turnout.

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