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In Key West Mayor's Race, Incumbent Calls For Change, While Challengers Look To The Past

Key West mayoral candidates
Key West mayoral candidates, from left, incumbent Teri Johnston, Rick Haskins and Mark Rossi, at a Chamber of Commerce panel last month.

Three candidates are running for mayor of Key West. It's a nonpartisan seat so all registered voters in the city can vote in the Aug. 18 race.

If one candidate does not emerge with a majority, there will be a runoff in November.

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Teri Johnston, a contractor, is the incumbent running for a second two-year term as mayor. But she's the one in the race talking about change, while her opponents — former city commissioner and bar owner Mark Rossi and real estate broker Rick Haskins — say they want to take Key West back to the way it used to be.

Haskins is the only one of the three candidates who is a Conch, or Keys native.

"The thing we have to do, first and foremost, is get this city back to a place where we love each other, where everything is relaxed and laidback the way it was before," Haskins said. "We don't need to rethink who comes here, who can stay here, what businesses are here."

The three candidates were questioned at a forum sponsored by the nonpartisan group Hometown! Key West.

The race could also provide a preview of the November vote on three proposed charter amendments. The amendments could change the cruise ship industry on the island. 

Haskins and Rossi say they oppose the two measures that would limit the number of people who could disembark each day to 1,500, and the capacity of those cruise ships to 1,300 people.

Rossi owns a bar complex downtown.

"The cruise ship passengers that get off those cruise ships see Key West, they love it, and they come back here, they stay in the hotels and they eat in the restaurants and they spend their money in the art galleries," he said.

Johnston said she thinks requiring smaller ships and smaller disembarkation numbers is a "terrific idea."

"We're going to be a different Key West than we were before we went into this COVID pandemic. But that's not to say we can't be a much, much better Key West," she said. "If we can't figure out a different plan, a modified business plan based on the tourism market that we're going to have post-COVID then I'm not sure who can."

Early voting has already started in Monroe County and runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day (including weekends) through Aug. 15.

Early voting locations are: the Supervisor of Elections offices at 530 Whitehead St #101, Key West, 10015 Overseas Hwy, Marathon and 102050 Overseas Hwy #137, Key Largo.

There is also early voting at Big Pine Key Community Park, End of Sands Road, 31009 Atlantis Dr., Big Pine Key and Islamorada Branch Library, 81830 Overseas Hwy., MM. 81.7, Islamorada.

Voters can drop off vote-by-mail ballots at those sites.

So far, Johnston has raised the most in campaign contributions with $80,758 as of the most recent reporting period — which ended July 31 — according to financial documents filed with the Supervisor of Elections office. Haskins has raised $53,839 and Rossi $50,710.