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Trio face off in District 5 GOP primary to replace Mann

Winner to face Democrat, write-in candidate, for Lee County commission seat in General Election

By NATHAN MAYBERG - | Jul 14, 2022

Three candidates from different places and backgrounds will fight it out in the Republican primary for the District 5 seat on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners which was left vacant by the death of Frank Mann.

A former Major League Baseball hitter who played in the 1986 World Series, a former Lee County commissioner and a chiropractor who has relocated from Long Island comprise the field.

All registered Republican voters in Lee County are eligible to vote in the August primary for the district comprising northeast Lee County including Lehigh Acres, Alva, Buckingham, Olga and a section of Fort Myers.

While the elected commissioner will be elected at-large by all the voters of Lee County, they must reside in the district by the swearing-in date in November. The winner of the Republican primary will face Democratic Party candidate Matthew Wood and write-in candidate Angela Chenaille.

The primary date is Aug. 23 though early voting begins Aug. 13 and runs through Aug. 20. There are 12 early voting locations throughout Lee County in which voters from any location can vote. Those locations can be found at: https://www.lee.vote/Early-Voting-Information/Early-Voting-Locations.

The candidates are:

John Albion

When it comes to political experience, John Albion is not competing with anybody in the Republican primary to fill the seat of the late Frank Mann.

Albion, 59, represented District 5 from 1992 to 2006, briefly serving with Mann before moving to run for a state house seat. Albion was unsuccessful, losing by 36 votes in a Republican primary to Nick Thompson, who went on to be a state representative and is currently a Lee County Circuit Court Judge. To represent the district again, Albion will have to move about three-quarters of a mile to get back into the district. Albion said he is planning on making that move.

“It is an opportunity for me to serve again and give back to the community,” he said.

Since leaving politics, Albion has worked as a real estate broker with the firm of Cushman & Wakefield,. Albion formerly worked as the executive director of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and serves on the board of the charitable Beach Kids Foundation.

He wants low taxes and concerned about the future of the economy and keeping county spending under control.

“We’re all nervous about the economy right now,” he said. “Inflation is running rampant.”

Albion is most worried about underemployment as opposed to unemployment.

“Our children have got a real challenge in this community,” he said. “People are not getting paid enough. We need to attract the types of jobs that are going to pay better so they can live in this community when they grow up.”

Food banks are expecting increased traffic as the cost of living rises, he said. He wants to work closely with local colleges and technical schools to build interest for larger companies to attract better employment opportunities. Affordable housing is a challenge and affects the ability of employers to keep workers, he said.

“Look at the home prices.” Albion said the county will need to work with the private sector on the issue.

Albion, a native of Massachusetts and a graduate of The Centre College in Kentucky, has been involved with his family’s business Safe-T-Storage in Fort Myers Beach since the 1980s.

Albion considers his greatest accomplishments as a county commissioner to be the establishment of the Conservation 20/20 program which he voted to put up for a voter referendum, lobbying for funds from the state to support the conservation program which has preserved more than 30,000 acres of land, and working with the state to obtain $20 million in federal funding for a National Demonstration Project to lower tolls during off-peak hours on the county’s toll bridges in Cape Coral, through a transponder program.

Water quality is another important issue for Albion.

“The C-43 and C-44 reservoirs will be a big help. The algae blooms in the past caused by these releases have been terrible for our waters,” he stated. “We’re killing our wildlife,” he said.

“We’re directly affecting these tributaries,” he said of certain developments near environmentally sensitive areas off Corkscrew Road and even county operations such as the airport.

“We have to make sure we are doing the right thing in keeping the pollutants out as best as we can,” he said. “That affects our tourism, that affects our quality of life.”

When he was the executive director of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, he worked with the West Coast Inland Navigation District to move up dredging so shrimp boats wouldn’t be stuck waiting.

Working in real estate, Albion is well aware of the infrastructure pressures facing the county including extending Alico Road to cut the commute times for workers such as those in Lehigh Acres. Lehigh Acres, is the best chance for many new families to obtain the home due to the affordability of housing there compared to the rest of the county. He said the county should get to work on SR 31 widening faster and as Babcock Ranch gets built out.

“Roads, not only are they very expensive, an average road takes eight to 12 years to build,” he said. “With these developers, to try and work with them on the infrastructure makes sense because it is in their best interests.”

On Fort Myers Beach, Albion believes a county trolley lane on San Carlos Boulevard would help encourage more parking at the county’s park and ride off Pine Ridge Road to cut down on traffic to the beach in season.

Putting affordable housing in the same area would also help local employers, he said.

“That would solve a lot of problems on Fort Myers Beach,” he said. “What about the small business owner down there who maybe owns a restaurant and needs waitresses or waiters. What about the hotels?”

Albion is most proud of his involvement in the Beach Kids Foundation, which provides scholarships to students from Fort Myers Beach as well as students whose parents work on Fort Myers Beach, in addition to a holiday toy drive every winter.

“It’s the best-run entity I’ve ever seen,” he said. Aside from liability insurance and tax return costs, “every dollar goes to the kids,” he said.

Albion holds a lot of respect for Mann, whom he hopes to succeed on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

“He stuck by his guns about preserving Lee County and the environment,” Albion said.

Joseph Gambino

Gambino, 42, is the newest resident of Lee County among the three candidates competing in the Republican Party for the vacant District 5 seat.

A native of Long Island who graduated from Stony Brook University, he has operated his own chiropractor practice in New York for a decade and has worked as a chiropractor for the past 17 years.

“I’ve helped thousands of patients,” he said.

Gambino resides in a rural area of eastern Fort Myers and said he would like it to stay that way.

“It’s five miles to the next Publix,” he said.

He said he is running for office “for smart growth, not overgrowth.”

Gambino has a mobile chiropractor business as well as a property acquisition company, Major Coinage Holdings. Gambino said the company is focused on building single-family homes. It’s a competitive business.

“People are buying stuff up like crazy,” he said.

He goes back to New York to attend to his chiropractor practice for about four to five days a month, he said.

He previously ran unsuccessfully for the Village of Freeport Board.

He would like to see the Lee County Board of County Commissioners do more to promote small businesses while working to maintain rural areas such as those in District 5, including Alva, Buckingham and North Olga. He wants to ensure that such rural areas are not rezoned for development.

“Preserving the environment and preserving the rural character of Lee County is important to me,” he said.

He said he believes the county commissioners are doing well with the Conservation 20/20 program.

“People live there because they like the rural life,” he said.

He wants to keep commercial development centered in the cities, he said. With traffic increasing with the growth of the county, Gambino said infrastructure investments need to be made in roads to keep up.

“Traffic has really changed and gotten really bad in the winter months,” he said. “It’s a bit of a concern.”

In northeastern Lee County, in the area abutting where Babcock Ranch is being built, Gambino said SR31 will need to be expanded.

On the issue of water quality, he said the county should work with the state to obtain grants. He says he would call Gov. Ron DeSantis to arrange a meeting if elected county commissioner to discuss water quality and ask for assistance.

“I’m not a politician,” Gambino said.

Gambino said he would advocate for subcommittees and advisory committees to assist the county commissioners on quality of life and crime issues.

“You are going to see me around,” he said.

“I’m not retiring soon. I’m going to be available.”

Mike Greenwell

Mike Greenwell hopes his political career can get off to as good of a start as his baseball career. Back in 1985, the 22-year-old Red Sox outfielder made his September debut and his first three hits were home runs in a career that would last through 1996 with the same organization.

Greenwell, 58, was born in Louisville, Kentucky but moved to Lee County at the age of 5 and graduated from North Fort Myers High School. His baseball team went to the state finals and he was drafted in the third round of the 1982 Major League Baseball Draft by the Boston Red Sox where he was a two-time All Star, runner-up in the 1988 MVP race and played in the 1986 World Series.

Greenwell’s life is far removed from the days of standing at home plate in front of more than 50,000 fans in the 1986 World Series in Queens facing the New York Mets. Nowadays, he operates the farm 31 Produce, owns the construction company Big League Builders, a property rental company Greenwell Investment Properties and has gotten involved in establishing a community board in North Olga.

His farm 31 Produce grew out of his love of gardening. Greenwell said he liked to garden during his playing days.

“We always had a garden in the backyard,” he said. “The garden just got a little bigger and bigger” to the point he now has a farm with blackberries, mulberries, strawberries, mangoes and about 20 different vegetables.

The farm allows visitors to pick fruit and vegetables as well as enjoy the petting zoo with goats, chickens, ducks, geese, donkeys, tortoises and rabbits.

Children can pan for gems hidden in treasure bags by the Greenwells.

“It’s a great place to bring your family and walk around and spend a little time around the farm,” he said.

Greenwell also operates the Cracker Shack at 31 Produce, which serves breakfast six days week and dinner three days a week (Thursday-Saturday). There is also local honey, crafts, antiques, and toys. He previously owned and operated Greenwell’s Bat-a-Ball and Family Fun Park in Cape Coral.

These days, Greenwell is spending his time explaining his political aspirations for the vacant District 5 county commission seat. Greenwell said he was inspired to get involved in politics through a meeting at the White House with the late President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, whom he calls “the greatest president ever.” Greenwell said the meeting was with Red Sox teammates Roger Clemens and Joe Sambito. Reagan talked about his days announcing baseball games on the radio, Greenwell said. “We were all in awe.”

With rustic walls behind him, Greenwell talks about what he wants the region he lives and works in to look like.

He considers himself “pro-growth.”

Greenwell is at the center of the Babcock Ranch development, which is shooting down State Road 31.

Greenwell estimates there are about to be 2,000 homes going up on the Lee County side of the road near his farm, part of a larger development crossing into Charlotte County where the bulk of Babcock Ranch, a city of 18,000 in the making, is located.

He is in favor of the development on property which was once farmland or forests. He would like to see the county support the development with widened roads.

“We’re definitely growing,” Greenwell said. “A lot of this is already approved so we know it’s coming.”

Greenwell said he would work with the developers.

“We should be prepared for it,” he said. “I think I would be a great voice to help us grow in the right direction.”

The North Olga community board has put into place some rules and regulations which would prohibit strip malls and electric signs.

“To me, this is paradise. It’s going to grow. It’s taken a while and now it’s coming. That’s why I got involved,” he said.

Greenwell said he would have liked the county to get more involved earlier in expanding SR 31 to handle the increased traffic that will emanate from Babcock Ranch.

“We would like it to stay rural-looking but yet we understand the growth is coming,” he said. “We would also like to see some things come where we don’t have to drive all the way to Fort Myers, all the way to Cape Coral to go to a national-chain type of restaurant.”

Greenwell understands the importance of water quality in Lee County.

“I grew up swimming and fishing in the Caloosahatchee River,” he said. “Water quality and tourism, they come hand in hand, and if we want our cities to be prosperous, we need to take care of that water quality,” he said.

Greenwell, who played in one of the most memorable World Series in recent decades, said the scene in Boston and New York was “a madhouse.” He said he thought he would be back there again and didn’t quite realize that could be his only chance at a world championship.

Greenwell remains good friends with his teammate and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, a five-time batting champion and Floridian who he considers one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Greenwell said the long season takes a mental toll and requires players to be mentally tough.

“A lot of people ask me about politics and I say it’s no different than playing baseball in a big city like Boston,” Greenwell said. “Some days are going to love you and some days they are not and politics is going to be the same way but I know I am always going to try and make the right decisions for the people that live out here and live across this county,” he said. “To me, the people come first.”