History was made on Fort Myers Beach Tuesday evening when three women -a former Beach mayor and two relatively unknowns within Town government- were voted onto the Fort Myers Beach Town Council.
Anita Cereceda, Summer Stockton and Rexann Hosafros amassed the most votes among the five hopefuls on the ballot to become the newly elected town officials in the unofficial municipal election race. They knocked out Vice Mayor Joe Kosinski, the incumbent who was not re-elected for a second term, and experienced planner Chuck Bodenhafer, whose path through the LPA (like former mayor and current Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, Beach Mayor Alan Mandel, outgoing Councilman Bob Raymond and Kosinski) did not pan out this time.
The plurality election featured the top three vote getters being elected without the need of a runoff. The election will be certified on Friday when provisional ballots come in from the three precincts. At those voting sites, 1,386 out of 5,136 registered voters cast ballots for a disgraceful 26.99 percent turnout.
Cereceda was the top vote-getter with 978 votes or 25.73 percent of the vote, while Stockton collected 878 votes or 23.10 percent of the tallies, and Hosafros received 767 votes or 20.18 percent of the vote. Bodenhafer received 626 votes and only 16.47 percent of the vote, while Kosinski tallied 552 votes and only 14.52 percent of the vote.
Cereceda was an inaugural Beach council member that served as mayor for three years when the Town first incorporated in 1995. She has a "keen understanding" of the Town Charter, Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Land Development Code. The successful small businesswoman on the Beach and native Southwest Floridian believes there is a new energy on the island and wants to "preserve the small town feeling and the special character of the island."
"I am absolutely elated. This is very exciting," said Cereceda. "People told me they were voting for me because they trusted me. I think that (trust) has been lacking. I hope that this time next year or -at a minimum- three years from now, the majority of people won't feel that way, Hopefully, they will feel reconnected, reenergized and reengaged and have a strong faith in their town. When someone comes over that bridge, I want them to be proud that they live here like I do."
Stockton, at age 30, is the youngest Council member in Beach history. She served as a Bay Oaks Recreation Campus Advisory Board member, is a local business owner and Beach home owner who has lived on the island since 1989. She has experience as a Juvenile Probation Officer in the State of Florida Department of Juvenile Justice system and believes Council should apply for restoration projects funds, modify the Town building department, have the Town charter reviewed and re-evaluate public information services.
"It's surreal. I'm thrilled, and I can't wait to get working," said Stockton. "I want to tackle the Lake O discharges and really want to improve the relationships between the Townspeople and Town Hall, so that everyone can work together as a team. I also want to clear up all these building issues."
Hosafros previously served as the Town Public Safety Committee vice chairperson. She is recently retired from practicing law in various capacities, including 19 years of work as a family court magistrate, after a stint as a teacher at the high school level. She stated she worked full time throughout law school and believes it is important to read pertinent Council material carefully to be prepared mentally for each issue.
"I am ecstatic and a bit surprised. I want to thank all my supporters," said Hosafros. "I plan on working really hard and want to accomplish the projects that have been started but haven't gotten off the ground like the water system, storm water and Estero Boulevard."
Hosafros admitted the three ladies get along really well. In fact, they were waving signs together outside one of the precincts earlier today.
"I think we will be able to accomplish great things," Hosafros said. "We complement each other as far as our skills are concerned. I have the law background, Summer has the youth and enthusiasm, and Anita has the history of the Town in her head."
Since the town incorporated, there have been only three women to serve on Council ever- Cereceda, Terry Cain and Jo List. No two women have served on the Council together. Now, there will be three on the same board.
The newly elected officials will be sworn in for their three-year terms at the next regular town council meeting on Tuesday, March 18, at 6:30 p.m.