Development opinions separate District 5 candidates
For some local offices, the campaign stopped after the Aug. 30 primary, but for others, Nov. 8 if the final tally.
After Lee County Commission incumbent Frank Mann defeated his Republican adversary in the primary race, he’s still facing two candidates on the November ballot.
Mann defeated Ken Dobson with 54 percent of the vote in the primary. At his election watch party, he said he wasn’t worried.
The Lee County native has been at the county for 12 years, and his platform over the years has consistently been the lack of management in growth and development.
The county cannot keep up with the growth and pay for infrastructure needs, he said in a previous Breeze story.
“We’re not managing growth well,” he said. “Crowded streets and crowded schools means a deterioration of a quality of life.”
His two opponents feel the opposite. Both residents of the Lehigh Acres area, his opponents want to see more growth in the county.
Diane Zigrossi, the Democratic candidate, lives in Lehigh Acres. The 57-year-old former bank manager and business consultant is no newbie to county politics: before moving to Florida, she lived Lockport, Ill., and served as a school board member for the Lockport School District, an alderman for the City of Lockport and a Will County Board member for a cumulative 16 years.
“I can do this, no training wheels required,” she said of the Lee County position.
When Zigrossi moved to Lee County, she had no intention to get back into the political ring, she said. But as she got involved in the community, those she knew encouraged her to run to get better representation for Lehigh Acres.
She’s running as a Democrat, but says running under a political party is a requirement of the system.
“A Democrat is an endangered species in Florida, but local issues are not really partisan based,” she said. “What we vote on today affects you.”
Zigrossi is running with three main issues on her platform: water quality, economic development and infrastructure improvement.
In addition to lobbying at the state and federal levels for Lake Okeechobee issues, Zigrossi said the county needs to closely monitor its own threats to water quality issues. Many of the unincorporated county areas are still running on septic tanks and wells that are deteriorating.
“We need to clean up our own back yard,” she said, adding that the county needs to spend more time inspecting these systems and identifying those that needed replacement.
Zigrossi also said Lee County needs to continue to work with other communities on water quality.
“We need a united voice when we go to lobby, so we’re presenting one united front.” she said.
In economic development, Zigrossi said the county needs to maintain a bigger focus on its oversight of unincorporated areas – road improvements, infrastructure, etc.
“Lehigh Acres is pre-platted, not a municipality, we’re not our own tax base,” she said. “So we have to rely on the county for every resource we have.”
The primary industries in the county are tourism and construction, but Zigrossi said “we shouldn’t have our eggs in two baskets.” Partnering with the school district and local colleges could help promote a work-ready workforce to enter into the local job market. Zigrossi said industries that are happening now – such as health care and technology – could help the county’s economy diversity.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight. It scares people… we need to think outside the box,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we give incentives to everyone who comes through.”
The third candidate competing for District 5 has similar thoughts about economic development and the need to drive it forward.
Sonny Haas of Lehigh Acres is running as a No Party Affiliate candidate on the Nov. 8 ballot as he didn’t want to try to win a three-way race in the Republican primary. It’s his third time running against the incumbent.
Haas is a native to Southwest Florida, and he’s not new to politics, either. He worked 26 years in the fire service of North Fort Myers and also served on the Lehigh Acres Fire Commission board. Haas is also a successful businessman. He grew his specialized trucking firm, Haas Roof and Debris Services, from a pick-up truck and a trailer to an 8-unit firm and his own driver.
He’s grown up watching the shifting sands that is Lehigh.
“Growth is our biggest economic engine, it is what it is,” he said.
While on the fire commission, the board turned the department around from mediocre to one of the best in the county, he said. During that time, he watched Lehigh Acres growing rapidly.
But then, he saw it roll backwards.
“Our home values were going down, our tax base decreasing,” he said.
Haas blames this stagnation both on Mann’s resistance to development and the county’s encouragement of Section 8 housing vouchers in his area. He’d like to see more homeownership.
While issues in his community might have led him to run, District 5 is an at-large seat and Haas has ideas for other areas of growth, too.
“Cape Coral needs to become the jewel of the county,” he said.
If Cape Coral got its own Interstate 75 interchange, the county could connect Del Prado Boulevard and Burnt Store Road to the interstate and bring in more people to the area. Haas thinks the Cape should get more proceeds from the Midpoint Bridge tolls.
“We need more managed development, more good things for the community,” he said, “Managed growth doesn’t hurt us.”
The healthcare industry is one area he hopes the county can attract – but he doesn’t believe the county should be using taxpayer money to help entice businesses, or to stop growth, which he believes was the intent of Conservation 20/20 funding. Instead, managed growth with required greenspace is the way to go.
“We don’t need to give millions of dollars to millionaires,” he said. “There’s money out there and it will come here – just get out of the way.”
District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker, who staved off a challenge in a Republican primary is also on the Nov. 8 ballot because of write-in Eli Zonana.
Zonana did not return any phone calls.
* Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect Diane Zigrossi’s correct age (she’s had a birthday), and time in previous office. Her quote has also been corrected: Lehigh is a pre-platted, not replatted. The Breeze regrets the errors.