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How Infrastructure, COVID-19 And Clean Water Are Driving Fort Lauderdale's Mayoral Race

Susan Stocker
South Florida Sun Sentinel
The Rio Vista neighborhood has been hit particularly hard by the sewage spills that began in Dec. 2019 and continued into Feb. 2020.

Nearly a year after the city's sewage spills, the issue of taking action to create cleaner waterways has taken center stage in the mayoral election.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis is running to hold on to his mayoral post for another term, with a platform based on his experience. His opponent, lawyer Kenneth Cooper, is running, in part, on a platform for cleaner waterways.

How clean the waterways are has become one of the big issues driving this race.

That's because the recent sewage spills, and the headlines and headaches that have followed them, began last December. By February, more than 200 million gallons of raw sewage had made its way out of breaking pipes into yards, streets — and into the beloved canals and waterways that give the city its famous nickname, the "Venice of America."

Breaking sewer pipes (and the breaking water pipes that have since followed) are closely tied to another main issue Fort Lauderdale residents care about: Infrastructure.

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Voters who live on the water, like Jerry Jordan, feel like this tension of building development on top of neglected pipes has been a problem for too long. Jordan is the president of the Colee Hammock Homeowners' Association and he's seen the water change. He said he wants change in city government.

"In 40, 50 years, I'm very sad of where the city's gone. It's just growing too big," Jordan said. "And obviously, somebody made a mistake because we have sewers spills all over. Kids play. People launch boats. We don't know how long it's going to take to get rid of all the toxin out of the sludge in the bottom of the canal."

Jordan is supporting Cooper, the self-proclaimed "Clean Water Ken," in the race for city mayor.

"Ask me what I'm going to do different?" Cooper said. "You've got to stop those exploding water pipes and sewer pipes right now. And it seems that everybody just looks at sewer pipes and traffic problems and it's not being completed. And it should have been completed 20 years ago, 15 years ago."

Trantalis points to the water and sewer infrastructure investments that have already been started in response to the big spills, including the more than seven miles of new sewer main that's currently under construction.

And the mayor also maintains that, "being mayor is not just a single issue task. I'm not the head of public works. I'm the leader of a community that has lots of needs and lots of expectations."

"Moreover, we've been trying to address the response to the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

COVID-19 is the other key issue that is impacting this race, as well as many others.

Currently, city employees are dealing with an outbreak of the virus. Twelve employees tested positive last week, including City Manager Chris Lagerbloom. Nearly 30 others are in precautionary quarantine.

A spokesperson for the city told WLRN, in an email, that Lagerbloom is working remotely under the care of a pulmonologist and, "looks forward to returning to work soon."

While Trantalis hopes to diversify the city's economy in the wake of tourism and hospitality hardships because of the pandemic, Cooper takes a different approach, arguing the city needs "staycation" marketing to bring people to Las Olas Boulevard and the beach area. He is hopeful a vaccine will come on to the scene shortly.

"I don't think it's gonna be a major issue in the city of Fort Lauderdale or let me say, I hope it's not going to be a major issue," Cooper said. "I hope it just goes away."

Both of the candidates say they plan to cast their votes on Election Day.