Fort Lauderdale Mayor’s Race Turns Nasty in Debate

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In the Jan. 4 Fort Lauderdale mayoral debate hosted by the Sun Sentinel, a night mostly devoted to infrastructure and development issues briefly saw Vice Mayor Bruce Roberts and Dist. 2 Commissioner Dean Trantalis engage in personal criticism of each other.

“You bring politics in Fort Lauderdale to its lowest level,” Trantalis flung at Roberts. While Roberts asked, “If somebody can’t tell the truth, they’re supposed to be the mayor of the City of Fort Lauderdale?”

Roberts, Trantalis, and former city commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom will face off in the mayoral primary on Tuesday, Jan. 16. If no candidate gets 50 percent plus one of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held Tuesday, March 13. If elected, Trantalis would be the city’s first openly-gay mayor. If elected, Rodstrom would be the city’s second female mayor after Virginia S. Young. Current Mayor Jack Seiler, who stated he hopes Roberts wins the election, is term-limited and can’t run for re-election.

The cause of the personal attacks was a series of mailers put out by the Florida Community Alliance PC, a PAC with a Tallahassee mailing address. Sun Sentinel reporter Brittany Wallman said that quite a few voters told her they thought the mailers were “homophobic.”

Related: Anti-Trantalis Ads Result in Accusations of Homophobia

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The mailers depict Trantalis in various outfits and clown makeup and accuse him of hypocrisy over the issue of development. “Dean Trantalis registered as a lobbyist for a developer in Wilton Manors. His hypocritical rant is just another act in The Dean Trantalis Show . . . Fort Lauderdale needs a leader – not a liar,” reads one of the mailers. In the past Trantalis has represented developers before the Wilton Manors Commission, including the failed G Resort hotel proposal.

Roberts said he was involved with the mailer but did not mean it to be homophobic. He cited his past record of pro-LGBT decisions, including being the swing vote in support of Fort Lauderdale’s pro-gay marriage resolution in 2014.

“Other people may interpret it that way . . . If you look at my record, you will see that I am completely the opposite [of homophobic],” Roberts said.

Trantalis didn’t accuse Roberts of being homophobic, but he did criticize his involvement in the mailer. “I’m really surprised you would associate yourself with this kind of chicanery. Besides the fact that these outfits I would never be seen in, I think it really demeans you as an individual. You bring politics in Fort Lauderdale to its lowest level. That’s unacceptable. If we see another one in the mail I think you should think twice about your ability to lead this community as mayor,” Trantalis said.


Related: 2017 SFGN Achievements in Excellence Award - Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean Trantalis

Roberts responded back and called Trantalis a liar, but did not get specific.

“If somebody can’t tell the truth they’re supposed to be the mayor of the City of Fort Lauderdale? Dean, that’s very sly of you. You talk about things that are completely untrue in your PAC statements and mailers.”

However, on development and the city’s water and sewage infrastructure problems, something everyone seems to agree is the biggest challenge facing the city right now, the candidates were more closely aligned and congenial. But they were not without disagreement.

When asked if they would put a moratorium on new development until the water and sewage system was brought up to date, Trantalis and Rodstrom said yes. “This is a recipe for disaster. We have to make sure [developers] pay their fair share. We are way behind the eight ball,” said Rodstrom. “We are beyond capacity,” said Trantalis.

Roberts said he wouldn’t institute a blanket moratorium but would go on a case by case basis. “There has to be a balance.”

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