It's time to start politicking to become Lehigh Acres' next honorary mayor. That was the word today from Inke Baker, president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Chamber of Commerce as she announced that the contest is beginning this year earlier than January 1 which has been the custom in past years.
"We starting early so we can get our candidates out there to start raising money for their favorite charity and for the chamber," Baker said. The present honorary mayor is Ahmed El-Gendy, the son of Dr. Alaa El-Gendy, who heads Florida Lung & Sleep Associates in Lehigh
His son is a part of the business along with other family members.
He has not announced whether he will run or not for a third term. If he does, it could be a first.
He became honorary mayor two years ago after he raised more money than any of the other candidates. Part of what he raised went to help those with lung disease with the rest went to Lehigh Community Services.
Since Lehigh is not incorporated, the office of honorary mayor is a ceremonial position, but one that makes the honorary mayor the face of Lehigh at many events such as ribbon cuttings and other social gatherings.
You get to become mayor by selling votes, Baker said.
"This is not the way the real mayor is supposed to get votes but for us, the person who buys his or her way to get the most money from all types of events, is the one who wins the title. It has been a coveted and fun title for several years," Baker laughed. And it's all legal as buying votes for a real position in an incorporated city which can get one in lots of trouble.
In the past, candidates have done everything from selling cookies and washing cars at car washings with supporters, to holding large golf tournaments to raise big money. In some instances in the past, honorary mayors have bought their way to the office by selling raffle tickets. And others in the past just plain solicit your dollars for the cause.
Baker said it is a good way to meeting new members of the community and become involved with community events.
"By becoming mayor, you can help your favorite charity and the chamber. If you want to become honorary mayor, we have the perfect opportunity for you, become Lehigh Acres' next honorary mayor," Baker said. She added that candidates should apply now as the time is ticking away. Contact her at the chamber of an application and for information.
As in the past, money raised from various events goes into a special bank fund and nobody knows how much money has been raised by the candidates until the last Friday night of the Lehigh Spring Festival which is held in March. In times past, the race didn't start until January 1 and many candidates waited too long to be able to raise enough money to win the top spot.
"Sign up now and start your campaigning," Baker said. Baker's right: it's like the early bird gets the work type of thing.
To sign up, contact Baker at the chamber at 369-3322.
The runner-up is also honored as is the third place winner who becomes the honorary clerk of the city. The person who comes in second takes over the honorary mayor's job if the mayor leaves town which has happened in the past.
"It can be a lot of fun. Talk to your people you work with and for, other friends, to people you think could raise money and become our next honorary mayor, Baker said.
The winner gets to ride in a convertible in the gala parade on the last Saturday of the Spring Festival.
The custom of having people run for the honorary title goes back several years and each year has added to the fun of the Spring Festival event.