I caught bit of flak earlier in this local election cycle for focusing more on the background of Fort Lauderdale candidates than on the "issues." But really! The candidates' backgrounds are important factors in their fitness to govern, and they also happen to be the most clear-cut differences. That is, judging by their public remarks, the candidates in this race support the "issues" of smart development, efficient government, safer streets, bluer skies, and more colorful rainbows.
Take the race in Fort Lauderdale's District 4. At last night's debate -- the 20(something)th debate in this race -- it took nearly 90 minutes to identify the difference between electing Coleman Prewitt and Romney Rogers. And it was background.
They are both attorneys, but Rogers grew up in Fort Lauderdale, and his family's roots in this city go back practically to the dawn of time. Prewitt, on the other hand, is relatively new to the city, and he touts his traveling ways as an advantage -- he's seen how other cities make stuff work.
After the jump, the money quotes from the two D4 finalists. You can decide for yourself who's more fit to lead.
Rogers boasted that he lived and worked within a square mile of City Hall, a factor he says will allow him to be more accessible to constituents: "I don't need to get on to I-95 -- I'll be right down the street." He returned to that topic again in his closing remarks:
The fact is that I grew up here and raised my family here and have worked here and have done community service here for more than 30 years. That's what I bring to the job. Coleman was born in Atlanta. He grew up in Belle Glade. He works in Boca. And he recently moved to the area. I don't think he can see the area as clearly as someone with my background and experience.
Prewitt, who got the last word, responded directly to that challenge:
People forget that Fort Lauderdale is a city full of people who came from other places, and the experiences they brought here are just as valuable as those of people who have been here a long time.
In a dynamic political era, Prewitt cast himself as an agent of change:
I don't find a lot of people who are happy with the way things are. We've been electing the same kind of people over and over again, yet we're not happy with the results. This is our chance to change that.
There are even starker differences in their backgrounds. Prewitt is openly gay. Rogers is openly religious. Neither candidate, however, seems interested in making this a wedge issue in the campaign.
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Another area of slight disagreement: Prewitt earlier expressed concern that Fort Lauderdale was too dependent on the tourism and marine industries, that because the city isn't "diverse professionally," it is "very vulnerable to economic downturns" like the present one. Rogers took exception to this, arguing that while those are important industries, the life blood of the local economy is its array of small businesses.
But all the same, theirs has been a contest marked by its civility. Prewitt and Rogers each tended to begin his response to a question by expressing agreement with his rival. They even chuckled at each other's jokes.
The big "scandal" in this race: Neither Prewitt nor Rogers voted in 2006. Or at least, that's what they were informed by Sun-Sentinel writer Brittany Wallman. It is puzzling, considering the intensity of the Clay Shaw-Ron Klein congressional contest. But both say they "don't remember" why they didn't make it to the polls. So that one's a draw.
Still, judging by the poll results from February 10, Rogers has an advantage in this race. He got 46 percent of the vote to Prewitt's 35. The runoff election is next Tuesday, March 10.