If Dean Trantalis wins Tuesday’s election, he could become Fort Lauderdale’s first openly-gay mayor. He is running against Vice Mayor Bruce Roberts, after falling short of the 50 percent of the votes required to win during the January primary election.
The city commissioner won 46 percent and Roberts won 31 percent in the primary election.It’s one of the most competitive races Fort Lauderdale voters have seen in a while. The winner of the runoff election will succeed Mayor Jack Seiler, who was first elected nine years ago.
He will also have to deal with the challenges of a fast-growing city: A failing water and sewer infrastructure and nightmarish traffic congestion. There is also a lack of affordable housing and homelessness. Roberts said he has the experience needed and he is ready for the job.
“It feels really good, it feels like palpable change and momentum are going our way now,” Roberts, 70, said about his campaign team’s progress.
Although the candidates are running for nonpartisan office and their campaigns are not meant to be based on party affiliation, voters are paying attention. The LGBTQ community touts Trantalis, a real estate attorney, as a progressive Democrat. Roberts abandoned the Republican Party, as the city’s population of registered Democrats doubled that of Republicans.
“I may not necessarily be the agent of change, I am a reflection of the change that the city has already become,” Trantalis, 64, said.
Roberts joined the Fort Lauderdale Police Department in 1973 and resigned as police chief in 2008. When he launched his political career as a fiscal conservative in 2009, he had the support of the downtown establishment and the police union. He believes in limiting the city’s growth.
“We are not approving any development unless the capacity is there to handle that development,” Roberts said.
Trantalis, who was born and raised in Norwich, Connecticut, moved to Fort Lauderdale about 35 years ago. The Stetson University School of Law graduate lived in Eastern Europe, Russia and England. Before getting involved in Fort Lauderdale politics, he was an activist for LGBTQ rights. He served as commissioner from 2002-2006 and was re-elected in 2013.
“We need to step back, take a look at what our capacity is, and make sure we are still going full force in placing the pipes underground, so that we can serve the people that it’s supposed to,” Trantalis said.
The candidates agree about the lease of the city-owned War Memorial Auditorium to host an annual gun show. Although Trantalis would prefer if the show eliminates assault weapons, Roberts said he doesn’t mind if the show sells them somewhere else.
“I don’t think it belongs in a park where family and children are playing,” Roberts said.
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