Three seats on the Wilton Manors Commission are up for grabs in the Nov. 3, 2020 election and the campaigning has begun to heat up.
Two 4-year Commission seats, occupied by Tom Green and Julie Carson, and the Mayor’s 2-year seat, occupied by Justin Flippen are up for election. Green is not running for re-election and Flippen has not yet announced if he is running for re-election.
To date, incumbent Julie Carson and political newcomers Michael Bracchi and Chris Caputo have announced their intentions to run for Commissioner.
Here is our Q&A with Caputo. Visit SFGN.com/WMelection2020 to read the other candidate profiles and for other Wilton Manors election news.
(Wilton Manors Gazette) Why have you decided to run for Commission?
(Chris Caputo) When I moved here a little more than 15 years ago, I knew I found my home. I was clear this was a place I could be myself, build my business, and establish friendships that would last a lifetime. I was right. I’ve been blessed with some success in my life, a lot of which is owed to this community that provided a foundation for me to build upon.
There are, unfortunately, some real challenges facing our city. Knowing I have the experience to have a positive impact, I feel called upon – compelled – to ensure our city is a great tomorrow as it was for my 15 years ago.
What are your qualifications?
I think one thing that might set me apart from other candidates is that I have proven expertise and qualifications directly related to the issues residents are most concerned about – economic development and diversity, housing affordability and fiscal responsibility. As a serial entrepreneur, I believe I’m the only candidate that has built multiple businesses from $0 to millions in revenue.
My last business, Agile Element, is a real source of pride: we created about 25 high paying jobs in technology, and our team had 3 times more women and minorities than the tech industry average. When it comes to housing affordability, I’m certain I’m the only candidate that actually has hands-on experience solving the problem: I’m incredibly proud of the Senior Affordable Housing project that was conceptualized and created thanks to the efforts of our Pride Center Board of Directors and Leadership Team. It is more than 7 years in the making: identifying the opportunity to qualify for tax credits, qualifying the right partners for the project, navigating complex city, county and state regulations and of course ensuring the project made financial sense for everyone involved.
I’ve made SFGN’s Out50 list, received the Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year Award, Our Fund’s first ever NextGen Philanthropist Award, SMART Ride’s leadership award, and more.
I’ve demonstrated my commitment to this community by raising $150,000-plus for local non-profits. I’ve earned my seat on the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce’ Board of Directors, as well as the honor of serving as Board Chair of the Pride Center, by walking the walk. I hold a Masters of Business Administration from FAU.
Are you already involved in the city on boards, etc.?
As you’re probably aware, I’ve been a regular attendee and outspoken resident at city commission meetings for some time now. I’m involved in our community in so many ways, from participation on the Government Affairs council at the Chamber (where I chair the Affordable Housing subcommittee), to my involvement with WMBA, and my participation in community events. That being said, there have been some opportunities to be involved with our city that I’ve turned down.
I’ve learned, for me personally, it sometimes is best to remain an “outsider” until you’ve secured a position where you can enact real change. I’ve seen some really great ideas come up in our various city boards that ultimately were shot down by commissioners – and I won’t be a part of that.
List your top issues of concern?
Economic Development (especially for small business) as well as Economic Diversity (not just “gay businesses.”)
Responsible re-development along our main thoroughfares to deal with aging and underperforming commercial real estate (i.e. along NE 26th St, parts of the Drive, and parts of Andrews Avenue) in a way that respects the integrity, charm, and privacy of our residential neighborhoods.
Ensuring housing affordability by encouraging developers to reserve some of their residences for workforce housing by offering things like density bonuses. I believe we need to reward developers for doing good rather than regulate that they do good.
Establishing a strategic plan that diversifies (not destroys!) our city so we can grow responsibly for decades to come.
Why are you a better choice than your opponents?
Recently someone said to me, “you’re the only person – of any candidate or commissioner – who I see day in and day out in our community doing things, talking to people, getting things done and making a difference.”
I’m not a politician.
I’m a resident who loves this place and the people in it. If Wilton Manors’ residents believe, as I do, that economic development, housing affordability, and fiscal responsibility are important to our future, I think they’ll agree that I’m the candidate that actually has demonstrated I have the connections, qualifications, and past experience necessary to predict future success in those areas.
How long have you lived in the city?
I am a homeowner who has been in this area for the 15-plus years; I moved here at age 20 when I bought a tanning salon.
Are you in favor of term limits, why or why not?
YES. And, to go further, I don’t believe in allowing someone to “take a break” and then come back with term limits resetting. If I can’t be successful in reaching the goals I’ve set out to achieve within a 2 term limit as city commissioner, I don’t deserve to be voted in a 3rd time – that’s for sure!
Talk about your ideas for improving the city’s downtown business district?
Having started my business in Wilton Manors, along with through my involvement in WMBA and as a result of seat on the Board of Directors at the Chamber of Commerce, I can ensure you I have first-hand understanding of the challenges facing our business district.
I love the businesses we have on the Drive, and I’m tired of seeing them closing. Responsible increases in nearby density will help support them. However, we’ve got to think bigger than all that. We need to diversify our business community (without destroying the businesses that built our city!) and attract new types of commerce.
I want to see a thriving arts and cultures sector. As my friends and clients at UNCS (one of the largest businesses to relocate to Wilton Manors in recent history) have demonstrated, there is great value in attracting and empowering a diverse range of small businesses.
Personally, I’d love to see a business incubator/co-working space that attracts innovative small companies to set up shop in Wilton Manors. Attracting new businesses will attract new residents (since people want to live where they work and play!) and support our existing businesses (like restaurants) and growing arts and cultural sector.
The city now has an all-gay Commission. How will you serve ALL the city’s residents, since the majority of Wilton Manor’s residents are not gay?
The first time I was asked this question, I have to admit, I was a little frustrated. In my heart, I wanted to know why no one was asking how come we have all white city commission? Or an all 40-plus city commission? Clearly, our commission (including the candidates) fails to check every segment of the citizens we represent, and I’d like to see that change.
Let me be very clear: the more diverse we are, the stronger we are. Let me also offer to help any person who is interested in becoming a candidate in this election – regardless of sexuality, gender identity, race, age, anything – get started.
This election needs to be about ideas – not about people, and the more we get people talking about good ideas the better off we are.
Now, at the end of the day, I realize what people are asking is actually “How do I know going to represent me and my values?” I believe and have demonstrated you don’t have to be a parent to care about kids – I’ve personally invested in granting multiple wishes via Make-A-Wish and I’m excited to be hosting a fundraiser for HANDY’s Prom Court in the coming months. I’m blessed with the resources to be able to afford a home in Wilton Manors, but I’m the most vocal supportive of ensuring housing affordable for seniors and individuals who aren’t in the same financial situation.
Paradoxically, the sooner we start electing candidates that have proven they share our values and vision – instead of focusing on how they look, what their family looks like or what their gender identity is, the sooner we’ll actually have more diverse representation. Now, that works here because we are a diverse community and diversity is a core value; it certainly might not work in some other cities.
Are you married, kids, partner, etc?
I do have a boyfriend, who is my rock, and I’m grateful for him. If you asked him this question, he’d tell you I’m the father of two kids who seem to always come first. I’m grateful for my fur-babies, Spartan and Fusilli. They are a demonstration unconditional love.
What is your profession?
I’m the Chief Strategist for Development Partners, which I co-founded with my business partner and fellow Wilton Manors resident, Matt Watson.
We level the playing field for small business and non-profits in competitive markets by helping them grow their share of market, uncover new opportunities, better serve their customers, and operate more profitably.
I can honestly say we are a model for the types of business we want to attract to Wilton Manors: we’re a technology company creating high paying jobs that support families and have a measurable impact on the communities we serve.
How will your profession mesh with your job as commissioner, if elected? Would there be a conflict of any sort?
I’m grateful that our business is very successful and growing – we’re actively hiring smart people! When I sat down with my business partner and his wife (who are also Wilton Manors residents!) and discussed the type of business we wanted to build, we were certain that social responsibility and giving back had to be a core value.
We can’t think of many opportunities to have a bigger impact on our community than creating lasting economic viability in our city, along with improving the qualify of life for it’s residents. The nature of my business is that my schedule is flexible, and I’m already deeply embedded in our community – that’s why so many people have commented on my involvement in our business and nonprofit communities.
Is there anything about your personal story that especially qualifies you to serve Wilton Manors’ diverse and unique population?
I don’t necessarily think it’s my story the qualifies me to serve our diverse population. It’s the fact that I’m incredibly involved with the diverse range of organizations, businesses, and groups within our community and that I’ve consistently demonstrated that my support for our diverse range of residents. It’s one thing to say you’ll represent diverse interests, it’s entirely different to be able to list off the ways you have already done so like I can.
What is your biggest criticism of what the Wilton Manors Commission has done recently, if any?
Frankly, I think that the commission has accepted the status quo for too long. We’re not doing enough to make sure that we are spending our revenue as efficiently as we can or working hard enough to ensure our future economic development, diversity and viability.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned being involved in so many leadership roles within our community is that I don’t have all the answers. I’m spending as much of my time each week as possible meeting with anyone who will talk to me -- I want to hear complaints and I certainly I want to hear ideas!
As a community, we’re better together and therefore collaboration and open dialogue is key.
Visit SFGN.com/WMelection2020 to read the other candidate profiles and for other Wilton Manors elections news.