Two more Upper Keys residents have confirmed applying to fill the Monroe County Commission District 5 seat left vacant by the death of Mike Forster, who succumbed to COVID-19 earlier this month.
Former District 120 state Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican, announced Monday, Sept. 13, that she had filed an application with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Office of Appointments to fill Forster’s seat until the 2022 election.
Since then, Republicans Anthony “Tony” Allen, a local business owner and chairman of the Key Largo Fire Rescue and Emergency Medical Services District, and Rhonda Rebman Lopez, a small-business owner and former state District 120 candidate, said they have also applied for the position.
Emails and phone calls to DeSantis’ office for information on other applicants remained unanswered at press time.
Republican Robby Majeska, a business owner, former Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District board member and former county District 5 candidate, said he is not seeking an appointment.
The District 5 seat’s jurisdiction runs from Tavernier north through the Ocean Reef Club.
Allen said he’d been contemplating running for the District 5 seat for the last six years.
“I had been thinking about it when I ran for my second term on the fire board,” he said.
Allen is serving his third term on the special taxing district board that provides emergency services between Tavernier and Ocean Reef.
“I was trying to wait to tell people until after Mike’s celebration of life,” Allen said after Raschein confirmed her application. “Mike and I didn’t always see eye to eye, but I knew he’d be a great commissioner. I saw him following through on his campaign promises. I considered him a friend and I can only hope to continue the progress that he started in being a voice for the Upper Keys.”
“We need a fair share and our voices heard. The Upper Keys need a voice. I’m going to put in the time and do hard work like Mike was doing, even if I only get to do it for one year.”
Forster’s term does not end until 2024, but because he was less than 28 months into the term when he died, the seat is now up for election in November 2022. The winner will complete the remainder of the term.
“Public beach access at Sunset Park and at Harry Harris is something that continues to need focus,” Allen said. “We need to get Rowell’s Waterfront where it needs to be. That park has great potential. At the same time, I can see Sunset Park being in a neighborhood as a hazard and health issue. I’ve been there. There are a lot of day trippers there and we need to make sure our residents can enjoy it.”
Allen said he’d work to address traffic and lighting along U.S. 1, not just in the Upper Keys, but along the entire corridor.
“There needs to be a crosswalk or street lights along Mile Marker 104 so people can cross the street safely to get to the businesses there,” he said. “We need to make sure that we have access to COVID testing in the Upper Keys, vaccines and the most up-to-date technology for these offerings. We need to have QR codes on the vaccine cards and the latest available technology that makes us current with the rest of the world.”
If appointed, Allen plans to run for the 2022 election.
“I know this is going to be hard for me. I’m not well known throughout the county. I’ve never sought the limelight. I just want a fair shot at it,” he said. “This is something I’ve been interested in doing for a long time now. I’m level-headed. I’m good at being transparent in public meetings and with finances. If I’m lucky to be appointed, I will start right away. I will want to stay and finish the job. I will make it a priority to finish what Mike started. I would be honored.”
Allen served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1998 to 2001 and moved to the Keys in 2010.
He’s involved with the American Legion, the University of Florida Gator Club, Mariners Hospital Charitable Foundation, Young Philanthropists of Baptist Health, the Elks Club, The Sons and Daughters of Italy and Light Up Key Largo, among others.
Rebman Lopez said she filed her application last Tuesday.
“Our county is hurting due to the loss of Mike. He hit the ground running. He helped with Harry Harris Park and the other pocket park in Key Largo. From what I hear, he was very fiscally responsible and he started to address some of our traffic and congestion problems throughout the Keys,” she said.
“Even though I’ve never held office in the Keys before, I want to continue what he started for him. I want to make sure everyone in this county has a voice. I want to be a voice for the voiceless. It’s important to be careful and transparent especially during this pandemic. There are many people here who aren’t able to get out of the house for some reason or another and I would like to represent them as well.”
Rebman Lopez has lived at the Ocean Reef Club since 2018 and her family has had a home in Sugarloaf Key since 1971.
“I’m seeking this appointment to help my community thrive through honest and ethical decision-making. We need a leader to navigate budgets, taxes, appropriations, ordinances with integrity and skill. I bring a broader outlook and a fresh perspective outside the status quo, long-term politician,” she said.
“I’m high energy and accessible to all the constituents of the Keys. Our environment and quality of life is so important to me.”
Rebman Lopez has supported Reef Relief, ORCAT, Ocean Reef Community Association, Wesley House Services, Dolphin Plus MMR, Islamorada Moose Lodge and Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys.
“I have supported many other wonderful organizations to give back in return for the privilege of living in Monroe County, the most beautiful and wonderful county in Florida,” she said.
Rebman Lopez lost a 2020 Republican primary bid for Raschein’s House seat to Jim Mooney of Islamorada by 1.1% of the vote, but was the only candidate on the ballot by petition with 1,013 verified signatures. Mooney went on the win the seat during the general election.
Whether appointed or not, Rebman Lopez said she intends to run for the 2022-24 term.
“I’m going to first take one day at a time and hope that I can serve this year and stick with the seat. I will always be interested in serving my community,” she said.
Upon announcing her application, Raschein said she hoped to continue Forster’s legacy “by leveraging my two decades of service to the Florida Keys. I know our people, our issues, our past and our potential.”
Raschein served as the legislative aide to Republican state House Rep. Ken Sorensen of Key Largo and Democratic state House Rep. Ron Saunders of Key West. Raschein then successfully ran for the position and served until she reached her term limit in 2020.
Raschein said she has an understanding of inner workings of Tallahassee and relationships with state officials, lobbyists and high-ranking Republican lawmakers. She was instrumental in the passage of one of the Keys’ largest annual appropriations, the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which brings in as much as $20 million a year for environmental and water quality protection projects.