Oh the irony.
November’s general election was a small victory for diversity on the Wilton Manors Commission — but not in a way this tiny South Florida city is known for.
The election of Scott Newton as mayor broke up the city’s all LGBT commission. Newton, a straight man, defeated Julie Carson, a lesbian, by 112 votes — ousting Carson from a 12-year tenure on the commission.
Michael Rajner, former chairman of the city’s charter review board, called Newton a “decent man” but added he has struggled to understand Newton’s vision for the city. The presence of Josie Smith-Malave in the campaign was an undeniable factor. The reality TV chef, who like Carson is also a part of the LGBT community, received 874 votes for 12% of the vote.
“If it were a race between Scott and Julie I do believe Julie would have prevailed,” Rajner said. “I’m not attacking Josie. Also, Trump voters, Celeste Ellich [Broward Republican Party vice chairwoman] mobilized Trump voters to turn out for Newton and [Mike] Bracchi. That may be why Scott ran a very vague campaign with no vision, maybe he wanted to court those Trump voters.”
In a Facebook live post after the election Smith-Malave pushed back hard against the narrative that her candidacy sunk Carson. In the video she heaped praise on Newton, while blasting Carson and her supporters.
“We're in good hands with Scott Newton. I got an opportunity to get to know him on this campaign trail, and he cares about the city. Just because he's a straight guy, he may not know about the LGBTQ issues, but that's what we're all here for, and that's what we are here to do is to support him being successful,” Smith-Malave said. “Even though I lost this time, we moved the city forward together.”
Smith-Malave said the people who voted for her did not waste their vote while also calling Carson and her supporters “sore losers.” In the video she said Carson’s supporters were posting nasty messages online and some were calling for people to “cancel” her restaurant, Bubbles & Pearls on Wilton Drive.
“Julie Carson, call off your lackeys. Call off your dogs. Call off your people. Be the leader you say you ran to be. You’re the leader of this group of people. Don’t be a sore loser. [Carson’s campaign] had a choice and opportunity to create a landslide win. If it's this close, don’t look at me [...] look at yourself,” she said. “Scott Newton won because he was there every single day, because he's out there being a real guy with the community and talking to the people, and being connected to the people. Being a mayor of Wilton Manors is about bringing the people together and clearly Scott did exactly that.”
In October Carson suffered a deep personal loss when her brother died. She ended up leaving the campaign trail for a week.
Meanwhile, Ellich told the New Pelican that Trump supporters gave Newton the edge in the race for mayor. Ellich said that since there were no Republicans in the race she recommended they vote for Newton and Bracchi, whom she said are both fiscally conservative.
“We [Republicans] have to vote for somebody. It’s our city, too,” she told the New Pelican.
According to the New Pelican Newton is a registered Democrat, who supported former Vice President Joe Biden.
Newton did not deny to the New Pelican Trump supporters may have gotten him over the top.
“I want to get back to all of us working together,” Newton told the New Pelican.
The Gazette has reached out to Newton via email and telephone for comment following the election, but there has been no response.
Michael Sansevero, chairman of the Wilton Manors Community Affairs Advisory Board, said the commission needed new blood.
“It had become stagnant and deadlocked,” Sansevero said. “Ever since Justin passed the energy was gone.”
The sudden death of Mayor Justin Flippen in February set about a chain of events that eventually led to the end of Wilton Manors’ all LGBT commission. Newton’s election, however, does not solve the city’s diversity woes as the commission is now composed entirely of white men with newly elected Commissioner Chris Caputo, 40, being the youngest of the five.
Wilton Manors losing its all LGBT commission leaves Palm Springs, California as the nation’s lone all LGBT governing body. Other South Florida municipalities with more than one LGBT elected official include Fort Lauderdale, Oakland Park and Miami Beach.
In 2018 Wilton Manors became an all LGBT commission when Flippen won his race for mayor while Newton lost his re-election bid for a commission seat.
“When you look at where we have come from, it’s not that long ago when we weren’t even allowed to get married or have kids. In a relatively short amount of time, we are now accepted as people’s city officials,” Commissioner Gary Resnick noted in 2018. While Commissioner Paul Rolli, who won in the 2018 election, said when he was sworn in, “The fact that we now have an all LGBT commission is a historical marker but not necessarily a defining moment.”