Heard on The South Florida Roundup: The Closely-Watched Primary Races with Election Day on Tuesday
Early voting continues this weekend and vote-by-mail ballots are processing as Election Day nears on Tuesday. A lot is riding on several closely-watched county races including those for top prosecutors, sheriffs, school boards and county and city leaders across the region.
Palm Beach County Primary Races
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is seeking a fifth term. His opponent Alex Freeman is a retired Riviera Beach police major. They went head-to-head four years ago, with a decisive victory for Bradshaw. Whoever wins on Tuesday faces Republican Lauro Diaz in the fall.
“Rick Bradshaw oversees the eighth largest sheriff’s department in the country,” said WLRN Palm Beach County Reporter Wilkine Brutus.
“He has an extensive track record. He has been quite active during homeland security and emergency management situations. His recent platform now deploys mental health field operations that de-escalate family disputes in the community. That's one of his key platforms at the moment," Brutus said. "He also updated the use of force policy after the death of George Floyd, requiring deputies to call EMS immediately once someone is hurt. But he certainly has faced some huge criticism, particularly last year, over the accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein's lenient work release privileges in the office's work release program. So a lot of history, a lot of controversy, but a lot of successes as well.”
The race for Palm Beach County’s Congressional District 21 pits incumbent Congresswoman Lois Frankel against Guido Weiss, a former Congressional aide and member of the Navy.
Palm Beach County’s Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link faces a challenge from Paulette Armstead. Governor Ron DeSantis removed Link’s predecessor from the post in January 2019, and appointed Link in her place. While this race is technically a Democratic primary, since both Link and Armstead are registered Democrats, this race is one of a few cases this week where no Republicans, independent candidates or even write-in candidates qualified to run, making it a universal primary election that will appear on all ballots.
Broward County Primary Races
The outcome of next week’s election will re-shape Broward’s criminal justice system. Voters will narrow their selections for county sheriff, state attorney, and public defender.
The race for Broward County sheriff will be one of the most watched this election as current Sheriff Gregory Tony and his predecessor Scott Israel try to convince voters they are best suited for the role. Israel was removed from office for negligence by Gov. Ron DeSantis following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. There are also seven other candidates competing in the race, including Al Pollock, a retired Broward Sheriff's Office colonel.
“You have current Sheriff Gregory Tony — he’s been surrounded by some controversy in recent months, which he's tried to use to his advantage,” said WLRN Broward Reporter Caitie Switalski. “There was a past homicide when he was 14, growing up in a rough neighborhood. He argues that makes him stronger as a person who understands crime. And then you have Scott Israel, who is really trying to be voted back in office because his platform is based on voters' votes were stolen when he was removed from office, that the will of the voters was circumvented by the governor. He wants a second chance. And so you have those really, really strong personalities at play. And then you have a third front runner, Al Pollack, who was endorsed by the BSO Deputies Association. And that is significant because current Sheriff Gregory Tony has had a lot of problems with the union, and a vote of no confidence over providing PPE [personal protective equipment] during a coronavirus pandemic. So there's a lot at play.”
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz is leaving the position after 44 years. Eight Democrats are vying to be his replacement next week.
Longtime Public Defender Howard Finkelstein is also not seeking re-election. There are three Democrats looking to replace him.
Miami-Dade County Primary Races
In Miami-Dade, the heated race for county mayor has four major candidates: current Commissioners Steve Bovo, Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez and former county Mayor Alex Penelas. The top two vote-getters will move on to the runoff in November, because it is unlikely anyone will have a majority.
The closely-watched race for Miami-Dade State Attorney finds incumbent Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who has held the office for almost three decades, facing a challenge from Melba Pearson. Pearson is a former prosecutor at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and former deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
“Both have a strong support on different avenues,” said WRLN’s Daniel Rivero. “The incumbent Kathy Fernandez Rundle has a lot of institutional support. She's been around for a very long time. People know her name. They know her very well. Better or worse, she's been around. And on the other side, we have Melba Pearson, who was a longtime prosecutor under Kathy Rundle. She's really gotten a lot of support from young people. Her fliers were being passed out and in marches and protests that have been happening lately."
"There's been a lot of publicity, even stories that I've done, calling some of the practices that the current state attorney's office into question. The Democratic Party itself in Miami Dade County actually asked Kathy Fernandez Rundle to step to step down and step aside after twenty seven years. It's going to be very tight," Rivero said. "I would not want to make a call on it, but it certainly is a very strong challenge that the incumbent is facing in this election.”
Monroe County Primary Races
Races on the ballot in Monroe County include Key West mayor and two city commission seats — those are nonpartisan. There are also Republican primaries for state attorney and county commission. Key West Mayor Teri Johnston faces two challengers in next week’s election. Her opponents are Duval Street bar owner Mark Rossi and real estate broker Rick Haskins.
“It's kind of a referendum on the current mayor, Teri Johnston, who is running for reelection after her first two year term,” said WLRN’s Florida Keys Reporter Nancy Klingener. “And of course, for the last few months, it's all been about the pandemic and what measures she's taken to deal with it.”
Two incumbents on the City Commission, Clayton Lopez and Billy Wardlow, also have competition this year. Monroe State Attorney Dennis Ward faces a challenge in the Republican primary from Mark Kohl, who held that office from 2000 to 2008. Whoever wins will face Democrat Donald Bartlett in the general election in November.
And in the District 5 (Upper Keys) County Commission race, Islamorada Mayor Mike Forster is running against Key Largo pet shop owner Robby Majeska in the Republican primary. The winner of that race will face independent Jose Peixoto.