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Will Chris Chiari, Chip LaMarca Split the Vote Against Ken Keechl?

Tuesday's election returns proved that there's strong anti-incumbent sentiment toward the Broward County Commission, especially as regards the leader of the scandal-plagued dais, Mayor Ken Keechl, whose opponent barely spent a dime yet still managed to get 35 percent of the vote.

But Keechl may be fortunate in that he faces two candidates who will be campaigning on ethical reform. If Chris Chiari and Chip LaMarca split the reform vote, Keechl may be able to ride his well-funded campaign into another term.

I asked Chiari about that possibility.

Chiari, an investment consultant in Fort Lauderdale, enjoys the name recognition that comes from having made two previous runs for Florida House, in 2006 and 2008. A former Democrat who left the local party after clashing with Broward Chairman Mitch Ceasar, Chiari will argue that he's the only candidate who's actually serious about breaking the long-standing ties between Broward commissioners and powerful business interests.

"Keechl has been a poster boy for this culture -- if you just look at his donations, you realize what it is," says Chiari. "A business community investing in its perpetuation."

Electing LaMarca, a staunch Republican, would simply trade one kind of bias for another, says Chiari. He argues that LaMarca, a Lighthouse Point city commissioner and a leader in Broward's Republican Party, is part of the establishment LaMarca claims he'd reform.

"These are basically two elected incumbents who represent the same nonpartisan business cycle in Broward that [through campaign contributions that later come back as contracts] effectively engage in public campaign financing."

Just as LaMarca told the Juice yesterday, Chiari says he was delighted by Tuesday's election returns: "Ken Keechl is a 3 1/2 year incumbent who spent $225,000 against an opponent who didn't spend $1,500. It shows weakness."

Chiari points out that primaries like Tuesday's bring out "supervoters" -- those who are better informed than the more casual voters, who cast ballots only in general elections. Keechl's strong ties with the Democratic Executive Committee ought to have made for a stronger showing. 

"Ken Keechl has dramatically raised his profile in DEC circles," says Chiari. "And for a candidate to lose 35 percent of supervotes? I think that shows that the people who know Ken Keechl best like him the least."

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Thomas Francis

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