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Politics

In Florida Keys, Local Elections Carry a Sting

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Florida Keys Mosquito Control District

In this election, voters in the Keys will cast some ballots that are unusual even for South Florida. They'll decide who leads the county's war on mosquitoes.

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board meets once a month with one primary mission: "To make sure that there is no disease spread in the Florida Keys by mosquitoes," said Stephen Smith, the board's chairman.

Smith is serving his fifth four-year term on the board. They Keys are not the only district in Florida to elect mosquito control commissioners. But they are in the minority; Smith said 18 out of the 61 districts do so.

But Smith said the Keys are unique because of the geography that requires the district to maintain three centers, in Key West, Marathon and Key Largo.

"It's like being in three different regions of the country," Smith said. "Every area has its own problems. Aedes aegypti is a big problem in Key West. It's not the big problem in Key Largo. It's Everglades mosquitoes, saltmarsh."

The Keys take mosquito control seriously. The district has an annual budget of $12 million. Miami-Dade County, by contrast, spends about $1.5 million a year on mosquito control, with some help from the Air Force Reserve, which flies some mosquito control missions each year.

The Keys are unique in another way. Smith said it's the only mosquito control board in the state where elections are partisan, so candidates run under a party banner. Right now, Smith is the only Democrat on the board.

"Mosquitoes don't care. They're nonpartisan. They don't care if you're independent, they don't care if you're a Republican, a Democrat, or whatever," Smith said. "They're going to bite you regardless."