The only thing certain in the Key West political debacle that centers on the unruly, much missing-in-action Monroe County Commissioner Eddie Martinez is that its resolutions will shape the Key West community for decades.
So, while I’d rather be hanging holly, let’s wade into today’s political stew, see if I can find some middle ground magic and then let’s go back to those warm, fuzzy, totally exhilarating highs from last Saturday’s Christmas parade. Or holiday parade, if you prefer. Makes no never mind to me.
First up, the “man-with-more-questions-than-answers,” Monroe County Commissioner for Key West, Eddie Martinez. On Tuesday, Dec. 7, Martinez resigned his position on the county commission, citing health issues and leaving to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis the choice of who will replace him until the special election in 2022.
Martinez’s resignation caps a year of turmoil in District 3, which includes all of Old Town Key West. His resignation beat by hours an almost guaranteed call from his fellow commissioners for his resignation, suspension or removal. A vote on the resolution was expected to come on Dec. 8. The plans for that resolution followed Martinez’s arrest in Hialeah on Nov. 30, on charges of domestic violence against his wife.
Only Commissioner Craig Cates appeared to be reluctant to support the resolution, saying he wanted to follow “due process.” Not sure what he meant, but since Cates has long been close to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and only DeSantis can decide what happens to Martinez, if he had not resigned, perhaps Cates was awaiting further information from the guy in Tallahassee.
What happened to Key West commissioner?
Martinez, who is supposed to represent Key West on the county commission, is no stranger to controversial headlines. In November 2020, the Republican political novice with no name recognition in Key West and pretty much none throughout the county rode the coattails of straight ticket Republican voters to a victory over long-time incumbent, Democrat Heather Carruthers.
Since then reports that Martinez did not live in Key West, which one must in order to be its commissioner, resulted in a lawsuit still wending its way through the system. (Update: Carruthers withdrew her lawsuit Dec. 10.) There have been other news stories over the past year about other domestic violence. He told the Hialeah cops who arrested him that he had trouble managing his prescription pain medicine, though he backpedaled on that in his public statement to the news media.
Two weeks ago, Judge Timothy Koenig ruled against Martinez in an $800,000 contract dispute with Fred Hildebrandt, who sold his Island Surveying Inc., company to Martinez. According to the report by Tim O’Hara in the Citizen, the judge said clearly that Martinez had breached the terms of the asset purchase agreement.
In short, few seem to know where Martinez lives, why he hasn’t shown up for several commission meetings and why he rarely appears to be available to his Key West constituents. We don’t know much, if anything, about his business or what activities and organizations he supports in Key West. To the best of my knowledge, he’s not been photographed out-and-about in Key West when and where the rest of the island’s movers-and-shakers prowl. We don’t know why he got the go-ahead to run for office from the Supervisor of Elections in the first place since the residence he claimed appeared to likely to raise questions.
Martinez’s fluke victory over Carruthers essentially disenfranchised Key West when it comes to county representation — even with hyper-local Republican Cates representing New Town and the sliver of Key West that is the Key Haven area out on Stock Island.
I flagged that disenfranchisement in a November 2020 column: “County Commission District 3 is Old Town Key West. County Commission District 1 is New Town and Stock Island. If only voters in Key West and on Stock Island chose their representative county commissioners, Democratic incumbent Heather Carruthers would have retained District 3 by more than 4,000 votes. Incumbent Republican Craig Cates received more votes in District 1 precincts than challenger Democrat Annalise Mannix. As red voting roared up the Keys, both Carruthers and Mannix fell to the countywide Republican majority.“
A Key West political action committee is petitioning to change the county-wide voting to district-wide to ensure Key West voters get the representative THEY choose, not the one the voters up the Keys think we should have. It’s time. Even if Martinez were a resounding success as a commissioner, he was not the preferred candidate for Key West constituents.
Martinez did the right thing by resigning. But that resignation changes nothing for the City of Key West. We still do not have representative county government for the more than a third of Monroe County residents who call this island home.
Full disclosure: I am a member of the Monroe County Comprehensive Land Plan Authority Advisory Committee. I was appointed by then-Commissioner Carruthers. It is work I love. I am eligible for reappointment by whomever replaces Martinez when my term ends.
CORRECTION: This column was updated on 12-14-2021 to correct a factual error. The original column should have stated and now does that candidate and current Monroe County Commissioner Craig Cates received more votes at District 1 precincts than challenger Annalise Mannix.
Thank you for this informative article. I didn’t realize that commission seats were determined by the county at large rather than by specific geographical constituencies. If that’s the case, why bother with districts at all?
Commissioners are required to live in their districts, so I suspect at one time folks thought that would be good enough to ensure each district had a “person of their own,” so to speak. But these days, what with population growth across the Keys and with political and demographic changes, it doesn’t make sense to run county-wide rather than district-wide.