Vice President Joe Biden's visit to South Fort Myers Saturday may have contributed to the small attendance at Lehigh Acres' Politics in the Park because many local residents may have gone to see Biden. Other factors could have been the hot weather, other activities in the area and that many voters have already made up their minds as to whom they will for on Nov. 6.
But the lack of turnout didn't take away from the more than 40 candidates - local, county, state and federal - who spent five minutes explaining why they should be elected and with one-on-one talks with voters.
Free hotdogs and cold water were handed out to anyone who attended and the Ruth Anglickis Community Room was filled with tables covered with campaign literature and aides in some cases with cookies and candy.
Bob Chilmonik, a candidate for the Lee County School Board, speaks to the crowd Saturday.
Four years ago, the Politics in the Park was also held on a Saturday and more than 200 attended and stood in the hot sun to hear what the candidates had to say. This year, a little more than 100 people turned out and came and went.
The political rally was sponsored by the Community Council of Lehigh Acres. Tammi Baker, the coordinator of the event, was likely the hardest worker and promoter of the candidates forum.
She planned for candidates to speak for five minutes or less and had someone with a timer near the speaker and signaled it was time to quit. If the speaker didn't stop within a few seconds he or she was thanked and the talk ended.
Baker had spent time working on an agenda including the names of each of the candidates and the time it would take for them to speak. Penciled on her copy were times from when the first candidate spoke at 11:10 a.m. to the last speaker who was scheduled after 2 p.m. With the remainder of the time up to 3 when it concluded, few people were left but those that did stay talked to candidates who had not left.
The program began at 11 a.m. with the Pledge of Allegiance, an invocation by Gary Warchol and opening remarked by Jim Kreger, chairman of the Community Council of Lehigh Acres. Marshall T. Bowers, president and CEO of the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools introduced the candidates while he was assisted by timekeeper Beverly Burke, the program director.
Candidates spoke behind a podium that was marked "soap box" across its front.
Most local candidates were on hand; however, a few did not come to the forum as planned. Candidates for the two local boards in Lehigh - the East Water Control District and the Lehigh Acres Fire and Rescue Board - were the first to speak and included names of candidates in ascending order of how the races are listed on the Supervisor of Elections website. All candidates followed in alphabetical order.
Local candidates for different seats of the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District included Jacqueline Danis, Ralph Hemingway, David Adams, Larry Becker, Ron Chrome, William Liedtke, Robert Hewitt and Cathy Kruse. Those seeking seats on the East County Water Control District only included Edd Weiner, and Joseph L. Whalen.
Candidates from the Lee County Mosquito Control District and the Lee Memorial Health System Board of Directors were present followed by school board candidates, Lee County Commission seat contenders, the tax collector's office, county sheriff and state representatives and congressional candidates. Sheriff Mike Scott was unable to attend because of a scheduling conflict.
Damian Shellor, a member of the Kiwanis Club and of the Community Council, said he thought the crowd was sparse perhaps because of the visit to Fort Myers by Vice President Joe Biden, who attracted more than 2,000 visitors.
Jacqueline Hill, a community activist who is a member of the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Corp., said she thought paid advertising in the local media may have drawn more people. However, handmade placards were placed in Lehigh and stories appeared in the local media about the upcoming event.