| Fort Myers News-Press
Fort Myers city council will have a few familiar faces and some new ones when recently elected candidates are sworn in during the next scheduled meeting Nov. 16.
Voters on Tuesday chose Kevin Anderson as their next mayor while reelecting Johnny Streets for a fourth term. Two new faces will join city council: Liston “Lin” Bochette III in Ward 4 and Darla Betzer Bonk in Ward 6.
All serve four-year terms. In Fort Myers, the mayor is paid an annual salary of $42,419 while city councilors receive a salary of $32,630 each year.
Anderson won his election with 53.35% of the vote, or 17,258 votes, compared to Jacquelyn McMiller, who received 15,090 votes or 46.64%. In the August primary, Anderson collected about 39% while McMiller had 35% of the vote to get to the general election runoff.
“I’m excited. I appreciate the faith and confidence the people of Fort Myers have put in me,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he plans to continue addressing improvements at the Fort Myers Police Department while also keeping taxes low and making the city an attractive place to live. He expects 2021 could be challenge financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for transitioning from his role of city council member to mayor, Anderson said: “It’s really easy because I never took the attitude that my only concern was Ward 4. I took the bigger picture that each of us needs to look at what’s the best for the city.”
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On Tuesday night, Anderson celebrated at the Ranch with other GOP leaders in the community. By contrast, McMiller went to the Luminary Hotel where Democrats waited for vote tallies.
The race, though traditionally nonpartisan, took on the politics of the national election. The Florida Democratic Party endorsed McMiller and helped her campaign through their Municipal Victory Program, an effort that focuses on down-ballot races.
Meanwhile, Anderson had support from the Lee County’s GOP, with the group even sending a mailer accusing McMiller of child abuse.
In his own mailer to voters, Anderson describes McMiller as a DCF investigator up until she was arrested for child abuse while describing himself as a police officer for 24 years.
The case was dropped by the state attorney’s office and McMiller’s arrest was expunged. On Tuesday night, she said she had hoped for more integrity, but added: “People will do whatever they need to do to win.”
Anderson said it was fair game because McMiller attempted to tie him to corruption at the Fort Myers Police Department. Anderson said he believes when the race became partisan it opened the door for politicking.
Despite that, Anderson congratulated McMiller for her “commitment, perseverance and tenacity,” adding that campaigning is not easy.
Now, Anderson said he is looking to the future.
“I think we are poised to have one of the most conducive councils in a long time,” he said.
Streets beat out his opponent Fort Myers activist Anthony Thomas by a wide margin Tuesday night despite Thomas’ focus on door-to-door knocking. Streets’ approach was more passive because of the pandemic.
Streets received 2,462 votes, or 62.71%, compared to Thomas, who received 1,464 votes, or 37.29%. Streets raised about $36,000 compared to Thomas’ $17,513.
“I’m tremendously enthused and happy about the turnout last night,” Streets said. “We look at integrity, we look at character and we look at experience and I think that had a lot to do with voter choice.”
Like the mayoral election, the race in Ward 2, which represents the Palm Beach Boulevard corridor and parts of Dunbar, got ugly after Thomas was accused of lying about where he lives, calling into question his qualification for office.
A hearing examiner report found that Thomas did not have the burden to prove where he lives, but the city clerk did, meaning no action was made against him.
Thomas on Monday said that the affidavit from his accuser had no merit and accused the city of going after his candidacy for political reasons.
“The comment I have is the voters of Fort Myers in my ward, unfortunately, believe the lies that were being spread by Sawyer Smith,” said Thomas, referring to the attorney who represented Thomas’ cousin who testified he didn’t live in Ward 2. “His allegations certainly influenced the results.”
“We will certainly be filing the necessary complaints with the Bar at the appropriate time.”
Looking to the future, Streets said, he wants to make sure budgeting “will reach across all of the wards where people need to get done what needs to get done.”
“Now we will have a new board,” Streets said. “I think everyone is eager and ready to go to work.”
In Ward 4, Connie Bennett-Martin lost to Bochette as the two fought to replace outgoing councilor Anderson, who won the mayor’s race.
Bennett-Martin received 2,259 votes, or 48.01%, compared to Bochette, who received 2,446 votes, or 51.99%. The vote was close considering Bochette raised more than $51,000, 10 times more than Bennett-Martin.
Ward 4 comprises downtown Fort Myers and the McGregor Boulevard corridor.
“We are having a big celebration,” said Bochette, a former Olympic bobsledder for Puerto Rico. “It was a very well managed campaign from the inside. I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people.”
“It was a good race regardless,” Bennett-Martin said. “I’m disappointed in what the results are of course but I’m really proud of the efforts made by everyone. I wish Liston a world of success. He ran a nice campaign and I really appreciated how he was respectful throughout the whole thing.”
Bochette added, “We agree on so many things. We were laughing today. We were together. We just have different approaches on how to get it done.”
Bochette spent Wednesday removing his campaign signs. He said he wants to focus on improving the U.S. 41 corridor and bringing sustainable businesses to town.
“U.S. 41 is a challenge we’ve got to clean it up,” Bochette said. “We have to get it back to a healthy state.”
Bochette said he plans to meet with Steven Belden, community development director, to see where the city is, where it needs to be and how its issues can be addressed.
“I think this might be, really, one of the greatest city councils the city has ever had,” Bochette said.
Fort Myers’ gated communities on the eastern front overwhelmingly voted for Bonk on Tuesday.
Her opponent Margy Metzler received 5,299 votes, or 43.03%, compared to Bonk, who received 7,016 votes, or 56.97%. Bonk raised more than $31,000 for the race compared to Metzler’s $28,387.
“I really am just overwhelmed by it all, and I am humbled that people supported me and came out and voted,” Bonk said. “I am ready to get to work.”
The candidates said they wanted the city to offer more equitable services to Ward 6 compared to the rest of the city.
Metzler moved to Fort Myers eight years ago after her husband retired from the military. She has seen Fort Myers experience growth and said she wanted to guide that growth so it continues in a responsible manner.
On Tuesday night, Metzler thanked her supporters and wished Bonk well in the future.
Bonk moved to Ward 6 in 2017, but she has been a Fort Myers resident since she was 10. She said she wants to improve water quality and services for the ward because it pays the heftiest amount of property taxes.
Bonk, who owns a sheet metal manufacturing company, also wants to help the city with any financial disruptions due to the pandemic.
Bonk said she was watching returns with her husband at home when she saw that five of six precincts were reporting and she held a large lead.
“I said. ‘I think this is actually happening, I think this is actually happening,”‘ Bonk said. “It was a very surreal moment, a very sobering moment.”
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Bonk said she is excited to get to work on all of the issues she’s discussed throughout the campaign.
“We’ve got a lot of development that’s going on, a lot of open-ended projects,” Bonk said. “I want to make sure from a Ward 6 perspective about what’s happening and what could potentially happen.”
Bonk said she is excited to work with the rest of council.
“One of the things I have a great passion for is people and the love of people,” Bonk said. “It’s not only the constituents but also colleagues. There’s new ones and fresh faces and fresh ideas coming in.”
That can only benefit the community and residents, she said.