The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Political theater: Who is Key West’s “ambassador to Cuba”?

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


“Me. Me. Pick me.” “No, pick me. Please.” “Me. Not him. I’m the real one.”

Oh, dear Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey.

We’ve got a splendid island kerfuffle over who gets to be the official “Key West Ambassador to Cuba.”  The school boy romp is playing itself out on Facebook, across the front pages of The Citizen, Key West’s local daily newspaper and, quite likely, in cocktail conversations among the political cognoscenti.

Key West Watch Media The rest of us are doing eye-rolls and betting on the next round of this grown-up version of Red Rover. Not that there aren’t a solid half dozen better things to do. Workforce housing, illegal vacation rentals, land use development, protection of the reef and the marine sanctuary, services for the homeless, air quality and street repairs to name but a few.

For those paying zero attention, here’s the recap. Last week, city commissioner Billy Wardlow announced he’d award an official “Ambassador to Cuba” certificate to outgoing commissioner Tony Yaniz, a one-termer who was soundly defeated in the last election. Yaniz asked Wardlow for the honorary title, which brings with it — and $3.95 — a cup of coffee and teensy doughnut, maybe. In short, said ambassadorship does not exist and if it did, the President of the United States might take umbrance over the usurping of his prerogative to name an ambassador first.

(Just so you know: POTUS named a career diplomat, Jeffery DeLaurentis, to the position of charge d’affaires in Cuba, preferring to postpone the naming of an actual ambassador. Cuba named Jose Cabanas, another veteran diplomat, as its ambassador to the United States.)

Key West mayor Craig Cates was having none of this Ambassador Tony Yaniz stuff. Any Key West ambassador to Cuba is a representative of the mayor, Cates told The Citizen, and by-gosh-darn Yaniz doesn’t represent the mayor. The mayor and the former commissioner are political archenemies and the two have wasted no opportunity over the years for political one-upmanship.

Cates wasted no time appointing his own Key West ambassador to Cuba. Knowing he was leaving for the annual U.S. Council of Mayors meeting in D.C., and knowing that Wardlow was presenting Yaniz with the title at Wednesday’s commissioners meeting, Cates announced his own ambassador at City Hall Tuesday morning. So, there. The mayor got his ambassador named first.

His pick is long-time Bob Harvey, commodore of the Key West Yacht Club. On Saturday, Harvey, Cates and Jose Miguel Escrich, commodore of the Marina Hemingway in Havana toured potential sites for a Key West ferry to Havana. One of those sites the U.S. Navy has pretty much said “over our dead bodies,” and thus is an unlikely, though photogenic, contender, but that’s a story for a different day. Escrich was reported to have been Harvey’s house guest for the weekend.

Key West is closer to Havana than to Miami. One can make it there and back easily in a day by plane, and with good winds by sail. The two islands’ histories are of the same cloth. Family ties are strong. Though there is a “we’ll wait and see” attitude among Key West’s Cubans — those with generational roots on this island and those who are relative newcomers — there’s little doubt that re-establishing diplomatic and economic connections will be welcomed in Key West.

A little political rivalry isn’t unexpected, nor is it much out of line. And, it provided a week’s worth of chuckles. This kerfuffle over an honorary ambassadorship ought be a reminder, though, that it’s well past time for Key West’s business, governmental and political leaders to stop the theater and figure out how best to re-unite these two islands. Before Marathon and Miami kick Key West back to the 1970s.

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a media marketing company. She admits she rolls her eyes along with the rest of the community that doesn’t move in the Key West cognoscenti circles.





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