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Four vying for District 1 council seat

By CJ HADDAD - | Jul 29, 2022

With the official ballots for the 2022 elections having dropped, The Breeze is giving voters a deeper look into the candidates they will have the opportunity to vote for in the Aug. 23 primary.

The race for Cape Coral City Council District 1 sees four candidates facing off, as Carol Rae Culliton, Jean Pierre Etcheverry Jr., Bill Steinke and Ally Wharton are in contention.

The Breeze asked all candidates questions to provide insight into their thoughts on policy and how to best serve the residents of Cape Coral.

Carol Rae Culliton

Culliton is the president and founder of the Brotherhood of Heroes Resource Center and Museum, as well as the president and CEO of the Gunterberg Charitable Foundation. She has lived in the district for nearly three years. Culliton has been involved for 12 years impacting Cape Coral by supporting several non-profit organizations as well as other community projects in Lee County: Cape Coral Animal Shelter, Cape Coral Art League, Cape Coral Caring Center, Cape Coral Museum of History, Cardiac Rehab Center of Cape Coral Hospital, Lee Health internal medicine residency clinic, Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, Cultural Park Theater, Junior Leadership of Cape Coral, Various scholarships, Guardian Angels for Special Populations, Gulf Coast Symphony, Holiday for Heroes, Hope Hospice, Leading Latina, Lee County Sheriff Community outreach center, Merchant Marine Monument, Midwest Food Bank, Oasis Charter Schools Stem Program, Pace Center for girls, Purple Heart Monument, Relocation of the Vietnam Wall, Sheriff Youth Activity League, Taste of the Cape, Holiday festival of lights, The Community Foundation, United Way School Resource, and others.

When asked what prompted her to run, Culliton replied: “For 12 years I have worked as a private citizen to improve the quality of life for residents of the city. From scholarships for our students, projects such as the cardiac rehab center at Cape Coral Hospital, the Lee Health Residents clinic, initial funding for the Cape Coral Animal Hospital, supporting the Caring Center, theatre, Museum of History, sponsoring events with the Gulf Coast Symphony, Taste of the Cape, Chamber of Commerce and Guardian Angels for Special Populations. Funding programs such as Junior Leadership Cape Coral and Oasis Charter STEM Program. I am a resident of District 1 and the owner of a business located in District 1.”

When asked what her main focus would be on day one if elected, Culliton said: “My focuses are a strong sustainable economy supported by economic development and diversification. Being a strong supporter of public safety, I believe our first responders need to be fully staffed and we need to continue providing the training and equipment needed. And, of course, I support our efforts to ensure our water is clean and our infrastructure is complete.”

When asked what she believes is the greatest threat to the future flourishing of the city of Cape Coral, and how she would work to eliminate that threat, Culliton said: “Our greatest threat to the future is not having representatives that have a vision for the city, not planning ahead and not focusing on the next decades, and not communicating with our residents. We cannot remain just a bedroom community. I feel my proven track record of bringing new projects and accomplishing my goals makes me the right person for City Council, District 1.”

When asked what she thinks is the key to a successful city moving forward, and how she would bring that to fruition, Culliton stated: “A successful city must have good leadership and a strong thriving economy. The city needs to be strong on public safety, provide a healthy environment, good education and better amenities and opportunities.”

For more information on Culliton and her campaign, visit www.CullitonforCapeCoral.com.

Bill Steinke

Steinke, 63, has spent a total of 11 years in District 1 and was first introduced to Cape Coral in 1977. He is the director of sales and business development for Aubuchon Homes, Inc. and realtor with Miloff Aubuchon Realty Group, Inc.

He is currently the president of the Royal Palm Coast Realtor Association, on the board of directors for Florida Realtors and chairman of the Participation Sub-Committee, Florida Realtor Political Action Committee. In prior years, he served as vice president of Florida Realtors District 5. He was served as a volunteer officer with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, has been involved in youth athletics and spent time with the Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity, Fallen Heroes and other organizations.

When asked what prompted him to run, Steinke replied: “I was encouraged to consider it by several people that know me well. I always have a ‘give back’ going on in my life and the current direction of that will come to a close the end of this year. Given my organizational development and leadership background, coupled with my financial advisory experience and the fact that I’ve lived in a variety of locations in our city over the last 45 years, they thought it was a perfect fit. I realized it and developed ‘the fire in my belly’ when I attended a panel discussion by then current candidates and continually wanted an opportunity to answer the questions asked of them myself.”

When asked what his main focus would be on day one if elected, Steinke said: “My initial focus would be diving deep into the ‘whys’ of our current position on our key issues. Every candidate has basically the same issues on their promotional materials – they are no secret. One of my mentors in my early leadership years (early ’90s) taught me ‘We are always perfectly designed for our current results.’ So, if we want different results in the issues we currently face as a city, then we must first take a fresh and close look at the design. During my candidacy, I’ve spent a lot of time asking questions of our citizens, getting their perspective on many concerns and that will not change. The only way to accomplish this is devote the time for the research and study and then provide findings and potential solutions, in an understandable way, to my fellow council members for consideration and decision.”

When asked why he believes he is the right candidate to take on this role, Steinke said: “Every organization I’ve been associated with has wanted to grow and I have been successful in leading that growth. I’ve always said, ‘I’d rather bridle a race horse, than beat a mule.’ Cape Coral is that race horse. It is going to grow whether we like it or not. The multi-faceted decision making that is required (each decision effects another decision), for us to experience successful ‘smart’ growth, is what I have years of experience with. I have always been a leader of people and it will require the collaboration, cooperation, synergy and dedication of a wide range of people that will be required to accomplish our needs and goals. I also have a vested interest in us moving in the right direction, as my children and their children call Cape Coral home as well.”

When asked what he believes is the greatest threat to the future flourishing of the city of Cape Coral, and how he would work to eliminate that threat, Steinke said: “We have some brilliant minds in our city – they are not all being utilized. Many are stuck in paradigms developed decades ago that are no longer sustainable. So, I believe our greatest threat is to bury our heads in the sand and not embrace where we truly are as a city, where we inevitably will be 10, 20, 30 years from now (because it takes that long to get some things done infrastructure-wise) and begin taking action immediately. I will work to deliver fact-based information, not only to decision makers, but to our citizens, so that reason and rationale is transparent to ensure an understanding of decisions made and actions taken. If the big picture is at the forefront and how things contribute to that end are understood, it creates a sense of pride, purpose and accomplishment to all those involved and effected.

When asked what he thinks is the key to a successful city moving forward, and how he would bring that to fruition, Steinke stated: “I believe staying in touch with the realities of current position, visioning to the future so that it is consciously created, will bring the greatest success. It’s been said that if you want to predict the future – start creating it in the present. It has also been said, ‘If you’re up to your behind in alligators – it’s hard to drain the swamp.’ So, the key is being able to serve the most necessary needs today, while laying the groundwork for the tomorrow you desire. My previous answers are how I would work to bring that to fruition.”

Steinke added, “I’ve shared this story with audiences before. In 1966, in a two-minute video, Walt Disney shared his vision for what has become one of the most widely visited and sought-after destinations in the world. In that video, he explains, referring to ‘story boards’ all over the walls of his studio, that while their current vision was clear, the ‘story boards’ would inevitably change over time – he was a visionary. The Rosen Brothers were no different. They had a vision for this ‘Water Wonderland’ they were committed to creating, although they knew it would be an ever-evolving process. We have to continue that visioning, creation and adapting to an ever-changing world if we are going to be as successful as we possibly can be for our current residents and the generations to come. I am committed to that end.”

For more information on Steinke and his campaign, visit www.BillSteinke.com.

Ally Wharton

Wharton, 32, is the senior director of HR operation for CloudFit Software, LLC. She is a two-year resident of District 1 and holds a bachelor of science in marketing, Husson University, and masters of business administration, Husson University. As senior director of operations, Wharton oversees Total Compensation that includes compensation, benefits, and budget. Wharton negotiates with insurance companies on a daily basis for medical, vision, dental, 401k and business insurance policies. She manages a team of nine and serves on the Executive Leadership Team. At her former job with Microsoft AI & Research, she co-managed a $20-plus million budget.

When asked what prompted her to run, Wharton replied: “I was attending a local meeting where the candidates who had already announced their bid for District 1 were being reviewed. After researching each of their platforms and listening to the needs of those in the room around me, I realized that I had the skills, experience and passion that we were all looking for. I wanted to support a candidate whose leadership style and values aligned with my own, and I did not find that in any of the existing candidates. I’ve always had the desire to make a difference and thought there is no better time than now.”

When asked what her main focus would be on day one if elected, Wharton said: “Sustainable development that has a positive impact on livability in our community. Livability is ensuring a decent life for all citizens of the city, including their physical and mental wellbeing. My focus for achieving livability centers around infrastructure, education and environment. If we invest in those three areas, we can bring a diverse and resilient local economy that boasts vibrant public spaces and affordability for all.”

When asked why she believes she is the right candidate to take on this role, Wharton said: “I have the applicable real-world skill set to carry out ideas that will benefit our city economically and build a future-proof plan to ensure we continue to live in a desirable place. With our rapid growth and exploding population, we need fresh ideas and proven capabilities. If we continue to elect lobbyists and politicians who have a vested interest in lining their pockets, we fail the majority of our taxpayers, our students and our businesses. I hold a master’s degree in business and have dedicated my career to bridging the gap between people and profit in the tech world, now I have the opportunity to apply that knowledge to our city. I have experience managing budgets in excess of $20 million for Microsoft, I understand compensation, benefits and how to increase the bottom line without sacrificing citizens. I care deeply about the diverse communities in Cape Coral, our small businesses and our schools, and I have the skills to build a better future for all of us.

When asked what she believes is the greatest threat to the future flourishing of the city of Cape Coral, and how she would work to eliminate that threat, Wharton said: “Folks are being priced out of their homes and forced to move out of our beautiful city. We have a teacher shortage and a school bus driver shortage. With the current rental and home purchase prices, where are our public servants supposed to live? We need to solve the housing crisis before an economic downturn, or it will begin to have downstream impacts on all home values and Cape Coral will become increasingly less desirable. Investing in smart, sustainable development now will enrich our city and allow us to become more attractive to residents, businesses and visitors.

When asked what she thinks is the key to a successful city moving forward, and how she would bring that to fruition, Wharton stated: “Preserving and highlighting our most beautiful natural resource, our water. For the health, safety and prosperity of our city, we must treat this as the focal point in our key to success. We can utilize our unique access to the water to attract residents, visitors and businesses alike. We must invest in sustainable development and reject plans that don’t have conservation at their core. Encouraging responsible mixed used development will create attractions, affordable housing and profit opportunities.”

For more information on Wharton and her campaign, visit www.voteallywharton.com.

The Cape Coral Breeze reached out to Etcheverry Jr. on multiple occasions and did not hear back.

— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj