The swearing-in ceremony for Wilton Manors’ newly elected mayor and two commissioners on Nov. 13 drew a standing-room only crowd, media coverage and much applause.
But as Justin Flippen, Gary Resnick and Paul Rolli were sworn in as mayor and commissioners respectively, it was also a bittersweet night of farewells: beloved Commissioner Scott Newton lost his bid for re-election on Nov. 6 in the four-way race for two commission seats and would leave the dais for the first time in 18 years. His voice broke with emotion as he said his final “goodbyes.”
“I love this community not just because of who we all are but who we’ve become in these 18 years,” said Newton, 60, blinking back tears. “It’s been a heckuva ride. I love you all and thank you and I’ll see you around town.”
Newton was the only straight member of the Commission and had served as mayor from 2004-2008 and commissioner from 2000-2004 and 2010 to present.
Also defeated were Katharine “Kat” Campbell, 43, who sought a commission seat, and city activist Boyd Corbin, 50, who lost his bid for mayor.
Incoming Commissioner Paul Rolli, who had vowed to represent all residents in his quest for office, noted that the city’s LGBT population is large, but not a majority.
“The fact that we now have an all LGBT commission is a historical marker but not necessarily a defining moment,” Rolli stated after being sworn in. “I ran as a regular resident to represent all residents without any special interests or personal agent.”
Palm Springs, California became the first city in the nation last year to have an all gay commission, according to the Victory Fund, which tracks LGBT candidates and elected officials.
Wilton Manors has the second highest rate of same sex couples in the U.S. and the first highest rate of any city in Florida, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. The city has 125 gay couples per 1,000 compared to San Francisco, which has 30, the Institute said.
Wilton Manors resident Emily McCrater, 47, attended the swearing-in ceremony with her 7-year-old son in a show of support. McCrater, who is straight, grew up in Wilton Manors and was thrilled about the city’s new distinction.
“I think it’s great. We’re an inclusive city and we are raising our children here to be inclusive of everyone, straight or gay,” she said. “We are here because these are the people we voted to represent us. I do think it’s amazing we are being recognized.”
Resident Frank Caplan, 72, who identifies as gay, said the new commission represents a greater acceptance.
“It expresses that things are changing,” Caplan said. “I’m not sure how many voters were aware of who was straight or gay. I’m sure there was an element who was concerned about the sexuality of their commissioners but there were many that weren’t concerned and that’s what’s encouraging to me.”
Former Wilton Manors Mayor John Fiore, who was the first gay elected official and first gay mayor in Broward, said having an all-gay commission is a non-event.
“Besides the honor and uniqueness of the historic significance, it will make no difference,” Fiore said. “There is no ‘gay way’ to fix a pothole. The job of running the city is still running the city.”
During the election, Flippen touted his longtime ties to Wilton Manors and his lifelong connection to Broward County as reasons to elect him mayor. When he ran for office in 2014, he positioned himself as “The People’s Commissioner,” because of his grassroots approach to public service, popular appeal and city connections.
A project manager with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Conventions and Visitors Bureau, Flippen grew up in Wilton Manors. He’s served six years on the commission — from 208-2010 and 2014 to present.
Resnick, a lawyer who served as commissioner from 1998-2008 and mayor from 2008 to present, is Florida’s longest serving openly gay elected official.
Rolli is a retired director of overseas operations for the IRS.
The mayor’s post is a two-year term and the two at-large commission seats are each four-year terms.