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And No. 2 enters the race

By Staff | Jan 13, 2022

To the editor:

Brian Hamman, originally appointed to the Board of County Commissioners in 2013, recently announced a run for re-election (FYI, 3 of 5 of the current Lee County commissioners first came onto the BoCC as a result of being appointed: Hamman, Mann and Sandelli). 

The first month of Hamman’s campaign brought in $50,870.22, including a $1,000 contribution from Carmine Dell Aquila, who, as reported by local media in 2018, sought to develop racetracks on airport land (Hamman is a Port Authority Commissioner, coincidentally) and eight $1,000 donations from members of the Cameratta family, developers of High Point Place in Fort Myers and additional properties in the DR/GR.  Contributions from developer-related interests alone accounted for 56% of the money Hamman’s campaign received.

It is distressing to watch day-in, day-out how our county commissioners running for reelection accept scads of dollars from the same developers, attorneys and special interests who appear before them, intent on paving over every acre of undeveloped land in Lee County. 

Everyday Lee County residents cannot match this giving and it’s as if we citizens cannot catch a break.

Frank Mann, the only commissioner who speaks out for Lee County residents, is in his last term due to term limits and will be off the Board after 2024. So what have we left? Four commissioners whose funding comes overwhelmingly from developers and related interests. This year alone, Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass has already received more than 70% of his campaign donations for his reelection from developer-affiliated interests.

Development is not in and of itself a bad thing. When done right, it can add amenities, economic prosperity and diversity to our community; unfortunately, our developer-influenced commissioners do not put the interests of residents first by requiring environmentally sensitive building or aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods. Instead, Lee County is chock-a-block full of gated communities, and that is not going to change soon.

Family, employees and businesses associated with The Cameratta Companies have donated at least $16,000 to Hamman and Cecil Pendergrass, the other commissioner running this election season. The company has received favorable zoning/land use decisions on acreage it owns east of Estero in what was once called the DR/GR, an area originally preserved for low density development because of the importance of the groundwater reserves under its 88,000 acres. Today, as a result of zoning/land use changes approved by our county commissioners, upwards of 10,000 residences have been built, or are planned in this area. Is there is any connection between these donations and the willingness of our county commissioners to accept such large-scale building? Who knows? It’s anyone’s guess. 

How can ordinary citizens match this dollar power?

We can’t, really. But we do vote. With the next election a little over ten months away, Women For a Better Lee continues in its search for viable candidates to challenge the entrenched interests. If you are interested in running, or participating in a political campaign, contact us at WFBL2022@gmail.com.

By the way, we have often been asked why we do not usually offer up names of donors. We do not for two reasons: first, while these names are readily available public information, we urge everyone to become familiar with the campaign finance reports on the website of the Supervisor of Elections, https://www.lee.vote/Campaign-Reports/Campaign-Finance-Reports. It’s an important way of connecting the dots and becoming familiar with the names of those most influential in our community.

Second, donors are simply taking advantage of the broken system now in place. Frank Mann does not raise money from developers; there is no reason his colleagues on the commission cannot follow his example. As long as our elected politicians salivate over campaign donations, accept funding from special interests, and as long as money greases the wheels of a campaign, there will forever be a tilt towards those who can most afford to play this high-stakes game. Businesses looking to succeed in Lee County benefit from this system; it is up to our elected leaders to model integrity and ethical behavior. Absent a county governmental ethics official, the voters must hold these commissioners accountable. 

Despite the odds, Women For a Better Lee will fight on — watching our county commissioners, calling out bad behavior, encouraging and supporting well-qualified candidates, and working to ensure governmental accountability, transparency and fairness for all Lee County residents.  We hope we can continue to count on your support in spreading the word and helping us recruit more people to our cause.

Charlotte Newton,

Women for a Better Lee

wfbl2022@gmail.com

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