Editorial board recommendation 2020: Fort Pierce mayor, City Commission| Our View

opinion

RACE: Fort Pierce mayor

TERM: Four years

CANDIDATES:

  • Linda Hudson, 76 (incumbent)
  • Donna Benton, 62

RACE: Fort Pierce City Commission

TERM: Four years

DISTRICT 1 CANDIDATES

  • Reggie Sessions, 54 (incumbent)
  • Curtis Johnson Jr., 53

DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATES

  • Jeremiah Johnson, 45 (incumbent)
  • Michael Perri, 83 

KEY ISSUES: Budget/taxes, economic development, policing, Indian River Lagoon, community engagement

The Nov. 3 election will serve as a referendum of sorts on the leadership and direction of the city of Fort Pierce.

Incumbents Hudson, Sessions and Johnson face challengers who say Fort Pierce needs a change. The mayoral and District 1 races are runoffs. In the former, Hudson and Benton, a real estate broker and wife of former Mayor Bob Benton, outdistanced four other primary opponents, with Hudson garnering 45.76% of the vote and Benton 19.51%.

In the District 2 race, Sessions got 38% of the vote, Johnson 26%.

Here’s how we view the races:

In the mayoral race, Hudson is running on her record. City debt is down, major projects like the proposed $85 million “King’s Landing” on the site of the old H.D. King power plant site are underway and the city has contributed to cleaner water in the Indian River Lagoon. Fort Pierce, she says, is in far better shape than in 2012, when she was initially elected.

Benton disagrees. She says the city’s “floundering” and claims low morale plagues City Hall. She’s sharply critical of City Manager Nick Mimms and decries the high cost of permits as compared to Port St. Lucie.

Bottom line, she believes the city is deteriorating, and that this is chasing away economic development.

Benton makes some good points, but her view of the city is overly pessimistic. Certainly Fort Pierce still has much work to do, but the city has made considerable progress, with Hudson’s steady hand on the wheel. She’s our pick in this race.

In the District 1 Commission race, Sessions did not return our questionnaire or take part in our virtual interview. His opponent, Johnson, did seize the opportunity, and indeed, used that word a lot — “opportunity.”

He sees jobs, prosperity, for District 1 residents in the redevelopment of the port and King’s Landing.

“I want to make sure our residents understand what these opportunities are, and what they have to do to participate,” he said.

Johnson, who owns his own digital marketing firm, grew up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. While he’s seen improvements, more needs to be done to boost trust within the community. The Census response has been dismal, he said, and that must change in order for Fort Pierce to count, and be counted.

He was also refreshingly candid with our board in telling of how he almost filed for bankruptcy in recent years, but opted against it at the last moment.

While his grasp of issues like water quality in the Indian River Lagoon seemed tenuous, his would be an insightful and compelling voice on the commission.

Sessions, 54, an attorney, is seeking his sixth four-year term. He’s been an advocate of police reform, recently proposing an ordinance requiring officers to upload body camera footage at the end of each shift. He’s been a fierce critic of city manager Mimms.

In July, the Florida Ethics Commission found “no probable cause” for complaints made by Hudson’s nephew, Charlie Wilson of Vero Beach, who had claimed Sessions should have recused himself from voting on an issue that could have benefited a previous client — longtime city critic Rick Reed.

Sessions has a dedicated constituency and has served for a long time. But Johnson’s fresh perspective makes him our pick.

In the District 2 Commission race, Johnson seeks re-election to his second term. Perri, the challenger, is a retiree who’s served on a variety of city boards and says he has “all the time in the world” to devote to the commissioner’s job.

Perri says the city needs to be run “like a profitable business” and claims some highly-paid city employees aren’t “showing up for the job” — an assertion for which he provided no proof.

Johnson, an engineer and assistant director of facilities management for St. Lucie County, says the city has gotten its fiscal house in order and made progress on other fronts. His grasp of the issues facing the city is solid, though, as he noted of water quality in the Indian River Lagoon, “we are doing a lot, and it’s never enough.”

Perri has some salient criticisms. But Johnson is our recommendation.

TCPalm’s candidate recommendations are decided collectively by its Editorial Board. Recommendations are based on nonpartisan criteria that prioritize the best candidates for our local community.

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