By Michele Dargan, Civic Association Special Report.
A standing-room only crowd filled the back room of Nick and Johnnie’s Wednesday for a chance to hear from some of the candidates who will appear on the Palm Beach ballot in the August 30 primary election.
The Palm Beach Civic Association and the Citizens’ Association of Palm Beach presented the “Meet Your Candidates” forum with more than 120 people in attendance.
Twenty-four out of the 39 candidates on the ballot appeared at the 5 p.m. event, talking with constituents before and after the program.
Civic Association President Ned Barnes welcomed attendees and introduced candidates for supervisor of elections, state senate, public defender, property appraiser, sheriff, county commissioner and Port of Palm Beach.
Citizens’ Association Chairman Lew Crampton, a Civic Association director, introduced the candidates for circuit and county court judges.
Mr. Barnes told the gathering that both groups are non-profit, non-partisan organizations.
“Our groups do not endorse candidates,” Mr. Barnes said. “Instead we educate residents so they can make their own informed decisions at the polls.”
Mr. Crampton said he and Mr. Barnes were pleased to get such a large turnout.
“Usually in the Town of Palm Beach in the dead of summer, you can fire a cannon on Worth Avenue and you won’t hit anyone,” he said. “This is a great, great crowd.”
Each candidate had two minutes to make his or her pitch. The judicial candidates were recognized and waved to the crowd, but didn’t speak at the podium.
The three Republicans and five Democrats for U.S. Senate as well as incumbent sheriff Ric Bradshaw were notably missing.
Susan Gary, a Civic Association director, said she always comes to the candidate forums.
“It’s an opportunity to get to know the candidates a little bit better and that’s important in all of these elected offices from our judges to our port commissioners to the sheriff’s race,” she said. “It’s very difficult to get a feel for them from a newspaper article alone, so it is important to be able to hear them, see them and shake their hand.”
The non-partisan race for property appraiser pits the current Chief Deputy Property Appraiser Dorothy Jacks against County Commissioner Shelly Vana. They are vying for the job vacated by longtime Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits, who is retiring.
Mrs. Jacks touted her 27 years of experience in the appraiser’s office, 20 of those in a supervisory position. In addition, she said Mr. Nikolits endorsed her.
“We are a full-service office with a lot of moving parts,” Mrs. Jacks said. “We value 630,000 parcels a year and we manage over 300,000 homestead exemptions. It’s a professional job that requires someone with a lot of experience. We need someone at the helm who understands the work and is prepared to lead the office.”
Mrs. Vana said she has a long list of endorsements. Among them: U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, and State Attorney Dave Aronberg.
Mrs. Vana highlighted her eight years on the county commission, six years as a state representative and, before those positions, a teacher. As a state representative, Mrs. Vana said she was involved in rewriting the property tax laws.
“I would say all of those qualify me as a professional, especially the teacher,” she said. “This is about you, about who will make sure that you are treated fairly and who has proven that over two decades in various leadership roles, and this is a leadership role, that I can do the job.”
In the four-person Port of Palm Beach, group 2, Joseph Anderson and Katherine Waldron spoke at the podium. Incumbent George Mastics spoke with people individually after the event and candidate Henry Taylor did not attend. This race will appear on Democratic ballots only.
Born and raised in Palm Beach County, Mr. Anderson highlighted his business experience by working for AT&T and starting his own construction company. He also emphasized his civic and community service.
“I have a life of service,” he said. “I bring the business acumen and many projects coming from the port are construction related.”
Ms. Waldron said she wants to “bring a fresh voice to the port. I’m a businesswoman and I have a passion for community service.”
She referred to the port as “an economic driver.”
“We can create more jobs and do more in terms of helping some of the communities in the district,” she said. “It’s also important to make sure we’re protecting our environment, the inlet, so when we’re making our decisions, we want to make sure we’re taking that into account.”
Bobby Powell, Jr. and Michael Steinger, Democratic candidates for state senate, district 30, both spoke. This race will appear on Democratic ballots only.
Also speaking at the event: incumbent Public Defender Carey Haughwout and challenger William “Bill” Abramson; the incumbent Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher and challenger Christine Spain; and the three challengers in the sheriff’s race – Alex Freeman, Rick “Rosco” Sessa and Samuel Thompson.
The nine judicial candidates in attendance were: Robert “Rob” Ostrov, circuit judge, group 1; Gregory Tendrich and Jeremy Zubkoff, circuit court judge, group 4; Lisa Ann Grossman, county judge, group 7; Thomas Baker, Gregg Lerman and Dana Santino, county court judge, group 11; Esther “Ettie” Feistmann and Bradley Harper, county court judge, group 15.
Jerry Frank, an executive board member of the Civic Association, said he likes listening to candidate’s backgrounds and seeing how they come across in person.
“Many of these people you’ve never seen before and don’t know much about them,” he said. “Hearing how they speak and present themselves is very important – whether they sound sincere or are giving a lot of political malarkey. When it’s a close decision and you’re borderline, you can make a decision.”