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, formerly occupied by the late Justin Flippen are up for election. Green is not running for re-election and the mayor’s seat is open.
To date, political newcomers Mike Bracchi and Chris Caputo have announced their intentions to run for commission. And when the mayor’s seat opened up Julie Carson switched races while former Wilton Manors City Commissioner Scott Newton also decided to run.
Now Doug Blevins has announced his intention to run for a commission seat as well.
Visit SFGN.com/WMelection2020 to read the other candidate profiles and for other Wilton Manors election news.
Here is our Q&A with Blevins.
Why have you decided to run for commission?
I have decided to run for commission because I have a desire to see our city grow with strong new leadership that is both proactive and visionary. I feel that our city has missed many opportunities for economic growth and expansion with the status quo of some of our elected officials. With the loss of our Mayor, we have lost one of the few voices for change and growth in our fine city. I want to bring my energy, enthusiasm, and ideas forward as an elected leader and a voice of positive change. The city needs strong new leadership that is not afraid to make challenging decisions about the city's future.
What are your qualifications?
I have had more than 20 years of experience as a community leader, activist, board member and volunteer for the city of Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale. I have provided the city with my energy and leadership for numerous organizations and activities in our city.
Are you already involved in the city on boards, etc.?
I have been involved with the following city boards and organizations since 2004:
Wilton Manors Main Street- Board Member and President 2004-2010
Wilton Manors Board of Adjustment- Past Appointed Member
Wilton Manors Budget Review Advisory Board- Past Appointed Member
Wilton Manors Design Review Committee and Design Guidelines Committee Member
New City Hall Task Force- Past Appointed Member
Wilton Drive Task Force- Past Member
Wilton Drive Improvement District- Current Vice-Chair/Past Founding Chairman
Wilton Manors Charter Review Board- Current Member
List your top issues of concern?
Public safety and well-being.
Economic sustainability through smart growth and development
Encouraging affordable housing/micro-housing to retain the service industry workforce and senior residents.
Long-range plan to address our aging infrastructure, sea-level rise and alternative clean water sources.
Looking at ways to tighten our city budget by examining our current services, programs, vendors, contractors and employee productivity.
Revisit land use regulations, height/density, codes and ordinances to help encourage revitalization and redevelopment in all parts of our city.
Encourage a hotel developer to bring in and keep tourists in our city, thus helping to create more daytime businesses for the long-term viability of the Arts and Entertainment corridor.
Why are you a better choice than your opponents?
That's an easy answer for me. Simply, my experience. (Over 16 years of proven experience and leadership that is visible by the many positive changes in our city.)
How long have you lived in the city?
Are you in favor of term limits, why or why not?
YES. When I ran for Mayor in 2014 one of my main goals was for Term Limits. Incumbents always have an advantage in an election for many reasons. However, my main concern, especially in Wilton Manors was the lack of vision, complacency and lack-luster leadership to move the city forward.
In addition, incumbents often benefit from large campaign donations from vendors, developers and contractors doing business with the city. I would like to see this changed and not allow contributions from anyone currently doing active business in our city.
In addition, without term limits, long-time elected officials may vote for or against projects, ordinances, or developments based on their individual supporters' wishes and not for the good of the city as a whole. As a current member of the Charter Review Board, I was a catalyst for the term limit item that was eventually presented to the city commission for consideration of a ballot referendum.
Talk about your ideas for improving the city’s downtown business district? Is the existing mix of businesses working, or not?
I have been involved with Wilton Drive and the Art's and Entertainment/Business district since 2004. Many of my ideas and initiatives have already taken place with the narrowing of Wilton Drive. I have had a dream of an iconic hotel in our city for over 12 years. Just last fall, the city hired planning consultants from the Treasure Coast Planning Council and there was strong evidence and support for a future hotel in our city. We need to support tourism in our city. I believe a well-designed hotel and entertainment complex would help to create more diverse daytime businesses for the long-term viability of the Arts and Entertainment corridor. I envision a city center with a Hotel, parking, outdoor entertainment space along with mixed-use development of office space, live/work spaces and micro-housing opportunities. These would be priority goals for me and would be an incredible tax revenue generator but also create hundreds of jobs in our city, thus increasing the demand for more diverse retail and businesses throughout our city.
The existing mix of businesses is not ideal at the current time. I believe there are several factors. First of all, the city codes and ordinances, in my opinion, are not business-friendly. I have advocated for years, the need to revisit density and height restrictions in our city. Having studied many other cities and urban design trends, I feel we are way behind. Our land-use regulations, zoning, codes and ordinances need to be carefully examined. We certainly don't need to be like Fort Lauderdale with a new 20-story building on every other block, but we do need to carefully examine areas of our downtown and adjacent corridors that can benefit the city with some taller buildings in strategic locations. We need good designers and developers who are dedicated to keeping our unique city qualities. However, we will never be able to entice those kinds of developers without important changes that will make it financially feasible to a builder.
The city now has an all-gay commission. How will you serve ALL the city’s residents, since the majority of WM’s residents are not gay?
I am a proud gay man and I have many straight friends in Wilton Manors and South Florida. Admittedly, in recent years, I have felt there has been an overabundance of gay issues at the Commission level. I am about equality for everyone, not just the LGBTQ community. When we overemphasize that, I feel we indirectly underserve our straight community. I would like to see the city commission be more sensitive to that.
In addition, I feel there are more entertainment opportunities for more diverse events such as the Music and Arts Festival, perhaps a monthly happy hour concert at one or more of our parks that would be more inclusive to everyone. With the possibility of a hotel and city center would also be an opportunity for more diverse entertainment that would reach a more diverse audience. In general, by growing our city with unique and diverse businesses we can make everyone feel at home and included in our community.
Are you married, kids, partner, etc?
Single, no children.
What is your profession, job, etc. (where do you work)?
Realtor, 18 years. Currently at Sea Island Realty. Also a professional Actor/Singer (Actor's Equity Association).
How will your profession mesh with your job as commissioner, if elected? Would there be a conflict of any sort?
As a realtor, working mostly from my home here in Wilton Manors, I have the time and flexibility to be a hands-on Commissioner. I am very social and love walking and talking and promoting my city. I see no conflicts at this time.
Is there anything about your personal story that especially qualifies you to serve Wilton Manors' diverse and unique population?
I have spent the better part of the past 20 years dedicated to making this city and my former neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, safer, more beautiful, more successful and more desirable. I have led by example, by getting out there with boots on the ground, whether it be by planting, painting buildings along Wilton Drive, setting up and taking down stages for events, or attending countless meetings at the city, county and state level.
Even during the market crash in 2008, when some of my fellow realtors couldn't see past the despair and took their own lives, I turned despair into non-stop volunteering for my city. I saw the sadness of lives lost on Wilton Drive as pedestrians were killed. I was relentless in making this a priority with rallies, petitions and meetings. I wasn't an elected official, but my perseverance and that of those who believed in my efforts, helped to make it happen. Wilton Drive is forever changed and for that and many other achievements, I am proud. As Commissioner, I will bring that energy, creativity and vision to city hall and continue the positive changes for Wilton Manors.
What is your biggest criticism of what the Commission has done recently, if any?
Overall, I feel that the city commission has not been proactive with regard to the economic development and marketing of our city. It is time for that to change. One of the major mistakes I feel the commission made in the past few years was by voting down the condo project that was planned for the Center for Spiritual Living church property along NE 26th Street. The developer had acquiesced to the commission's requests to downsize the number of units and the final proposal was unanimously approved by the city's planning and zoning board, yet the commission voted down the project. The project was well-designed and would have brought in an estimated $350,000 per year in tax revenue. That revenue would have gone a long way to a healthy budget, especially in these uncertain times with the COVID-19 situation.