District 2: Aronson knows her community the most
Five candidates with varying backgrounds and experience filed to run for the Broward County Commission District 2 spot in the Aug. 26 Democratic primary. No Republicans have filed to run for this seat, so the winner of the primary will be the district's next commissioner.
But, it's complicated. Because a write-in candidate filed to run in November's general election, the August primary was closed for Democrats only. Absent that write-in candidate, voters of any party would have been allowed to vote in the primary because they faced no choice in November.
However, a legal challenge revealed the write-in candidate failed to live in the district when he filed his papers, as required by law, so a judge quickly opened the primary to all voters. But Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes said the ruling came too late to change the ballot, so she wants the contest decided in November, instead. An appeals judge will make the final ruling.
What a mess. It's unfair to the candidates and to the voters. But for now, the candidates' names remain on the primary ballots that Democratic voters will receive, though Snipes says the votes in this match-up won't be counted. We'll see.
In the meantime, since that the race remains on the August ballot for Democrats, we offer our assessment now.
All the candidates have their strengths, but the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board believes Lisa Aronson is best suited to replace outgoing commissioner Kristin Jacobs, who is term-limited and running for a seat in the Florida House.
District 2 runs through Coconut Creek, Deerfield Beach, Pompano Beach, Margate and Coral Springs. Only residents of the district are eligible to vote in this race.
Aronson, 57, is the mayor of Coconut Creek and has been on that city's commission since 2008. She is smart, hard-working and knows the district well. She is a leader in the Broward League of Cities, a member of the Broward County Planning Council and the Broward Water Resources Task Force. And she has served as executive director of two Broward County Charter Review Commissions.
Aronson would be a fresh, studious face on the commission, bringing years of experience from the public and private sectors.
"I've worked with elected officials in all cities," she points out. "I've been involved with higher education issues, worked with county government and at the municipal level. I've worked behind the scenes and on the front lines."
She's clear about where she would focus her attention. "Transportation is the first priority." Continued improvements also are needed at Port Everglades and the county's airports. She wants the county to finally synchronize the lights on major thoroughfares, plus improve mass transit. And she wants to attract sustainable industries, particularly light manufacturing, high tech development and more marine manufacturing and repair.
The other candidates are former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom, attorney Mark Bogen, civil rights activist Terry Williams-Edden, and billing coordinator/home health aide Carmen Dixon Jones.
Rodstrom, 61, served three terms on the Fort Lauderdale City Commission and has worked with many county agencies. Like Aronson, she is a hard worker who understands the challenges and levers of local government. But unlike Aronson, she hasn't lived in the district, though she says she'll move from her Fort Lauderdale home if elected. (While state law says a write-in candidate must live in the district when they file to run, commissioners must live in the district at the time they are sworn into office.)
Bogen, 54, who moved from Palm Beach County to Pompano Beach in his run for the commission, has been an attorney for more than 30 years and represents many condominium and homeowner associations. He believes his experience working with contracts, vendors and other issues has prepared him for the county job. Economic development would be his first priority.
Williams-Edden, 48, considers herself an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. Her top issue is the lack of good jobs.
Jones, who was not interviewed by the editorial board, has said that economic development, job creation and beach restoration are the most important issues.
Each candidate has something to offer, but Lisa Aronson best knows the district and has a track record of working well with others to get things done. Aronson deserves your vote.
District 4: Keechl's experience gives him the edge
A former Broward County commissioner seeking his old job back and a political newcomer are vying for the Democratic spot in the District 4 race.
Ken Keechl and Ben Lap have similar feelings on many issues, but the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board feels Keechl, 51, is the best choice in the Aug. 26 primary. The winner will face incumbent Commissioner Chip LaMarca, the only Republican on the nine-member commission, in November.
District 4 runs along the ocean, comprising the cities of Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hillsboro Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Lighthouse Point, Oakland Park, Pompano Beach and Sea Ranch Lakes. Only residents of the district are eligible to vote in this race.
Keechl, who held the position from 2006-2010 and served a year as county mayor before losing his seat to LaMarca, is clear about the challenges facing district voters.
"Transportation is the biggest issue," he said. "We are going to have more people on these roads. We have to figure out a dedicated funding source for transportation."
He believes the transportation needs include light rail and dedicated rapid bus lines.
During Keechl's previous time on the commission, he helped pass a long-stalled plan to expand the southern runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Also, plans for a badly needed new county courthouse and the expansion of Port Everglades were approved.
Keechl also sees job creation and retention as a primary issue. He wants to convene a workshop with the County Commission, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance and various business leaders to come up with ways to attract and keep businesses.
Keechl stresses that beach renourishment is important to the county, but vital in District 4. He is opposed to taking more bed tax money away from renourishment projects and using it to revamp the BB&T Center. He also believes the renourishment projects will create jobs.
Lap, 57, is an attorney, mediator and biotech entrepreneur. He has been a Democratic fundraiser, though he has never run for office. Before the recession, he faced financial problems, including bankruptcy and a failed business. He currently faces a foreclosure.
Laps says the No. 1 issue facing the county is "creating living wage jobs," but he lacks specifics on how to change the dynamic. Like Keechl, he is opposed to increasing the funding for the BB&T Center, a request sought by the arena's major tenant, the Florida Panthers professional hockey team.
Lap is a thoughtful man whose mediation skills could help a sometimes-dysfunctional commission find middle ground. He listens hard. With seasoning, he would likely represent his constituents well. But for the moment, in this primary, Keechl is the better choice.
District 6: Furr demonstrates courage, smarts
Two well-known veteran public officials will be vying for the Broward County Commission District 6 seat in the Aug. 26 primary.
Quentin "Beam" Furr, 59, who spent 12 years on the Hollywood City Commission, is running against Joeseph "Joe" Gibbons, 66, who has been in the Florida House of Representatives since 2006. They are vying for the seat vacated by Sue Gunzburger, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
District 6 runs through the eastern parts of Hollywood, Pembroke Pines and Hallandale Beach. Only residents of the district are eligible to vote in this race.
Both Furr and Gibbons are strong candidates, but the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board believes Furr is the better choice because of his demonstrated courage in looking out for taxpayers.
Furr was a tough negotiator with Hollywood unions, taking a hard look at pensions in 2011, when the city faced a $38-million budget gap. Gibbons, who has the backing of unions, claims Furr is anti-union, but Furr rightly puts fiscal discipline and taxpayers first.
When tough choices had to be made, Furr was among those Hollywood commissioners who favored increasing the retirement age for members of municipal unions and eliminating automatic cost-of-living adjustments. "This can't last," he said at the time. "You're seeing cities going bankrupt. We've had to borrow money to pave streets and sidewalks."
Though Furr recognizes and appreciates the importance of public safety workers, "I had to take a hard look at our budget. The entire budget was getting swallowed by the cost of pensions."
Taking on municipal unions takes guts for an elected official in any city because union members are motivated to vote in big numbers. The easy thing to do is roll over for big pay raises and pension increases. But the best public servants don't take the easy way out. Rather, they make considered decisions while keeping a close eye on taxpayers' wallets. Furr has demonstrated his willingness to do that. Also, his training as a librarian has helped him dig into details to find the best solutions.
Besides fiscal discipline, Furr sees public transportation as a critical issue in his district. "People feel [public transportation] doesn't get them where they want to go as well at it should." He would encourage transit-oriented development near employment centers, promote commuter rail on the FEC line and push for better synchronization of traffic signals.
Other priorities include more affordable housing and sustained attention on environmental issues, such as climate change, beach erosion and water supply. He is a strong supporter of solar energy.
Before being elected to the Florida House and rising in leadership there, Gibbons served one term as a city commissioner in Hallandale Beach. He is a caring and passionate man who believes his familiarity with the district and experience in Tallahassee make him the best candidate.
Gibbons said airport and Port Everglades expansion are among his key issues. He is particularly concerned about the convoluted exit ramp planned from the airport to southbound U.S. 1, which may be redesigned.
Gibbons is an effective and likable candidate who continues to have much to give. But given Furr's courageous track record, he gets our nod and deserves your vote.
District 8: Sharief the stronger choice
The two candidates in the Broward County Commission District 8 primary are not big fans of one another.
Barbara Sharief, the county mayor, claims her opponent — Miramar Commissioner Alexandra Davis — has spent way too much money promoting herself at various events in Miramar.
Davis says Sharief isn't visible enough in the community that she is supposed to represent.
District 8 runs through all or part of Miramar, Pembroke Pines, West Park, Pembroke Park and Hallandale Beach. Only residents of the district are eligible to vote in this race.
The two candidates were combative during their Sun Sentinel Editorial Board interview and it's fair to say that each has flaws. Still, we believe Sharief is the better and stronger choice. She's informed, engaged, a liaison with other governments and a leader among peers.
Sharief, 42, has had her share of controversy. Earlier this year, the state Commission on Ethics said it found probable cause to believe she had violated state ethics laws and the state Constitution when she failed to properly disclose her financial interests for three years. Also, as the CEO of a home health care company, Sharief paid fines to the state last year after being accused of over-billing Medicaid. She attributed her problems to a clerical error. "There was nothing sinister. When I found out, it was corrected. ... Financial disclosure forms can get to be very complicated."
Perhaps. But a county commissioner overseeing a $4 billion budget and complex projects should be able to figure out how to disclose her finances on a financial disclosure form. Or else she should hire a qualified person who can. There is no excuse.
Sharief also says the county ethics laws are too strict in some instances, which is disconcerting.
Still, her contributions are enough to warrant a return to the commission. And Davis does not yet demonstrate the skills and temperament needed to rise to the next level.
Sharief says her main focus will be economic development, job creation and relieving traffic congestion. She wants to encourage businesses to move to Broward, and encourage contractors and vendors to hire locally. She also says something must be done to address the request by the Florida Panthers, which is seeking millions more to renovate the county-owned BB&T Center in Sunrise.
While consultants are still analyzing that project, Sharief says the building must be maintained properly — with or without the Panthers. She is open to helping the team. As the issue has unfolded, Sharief at times has broad-brushed the details, suggesting she hasn't really dug in and studied them. But she's correct that the arena is county-owned, and taxpayers don't want a white elephant on their hands.
Davis, 51, is a Miramar commissioner and a former vice mayor of the city. She was a Miami-Dade County official for 18 years, working as the Solid Waste Management Code Administrator. Her priorities are job creation and economic development, transportation and the redevelopment of historic neighborhoods.
She said she wants to cut "fat and waste in government," but she offered no concrete solutions.
Davis is passionate, without question. But Sharief is the more experienced candidate. Voters should return her to the commission.