Joshua Solomon Treasure Coast Newspapers Original article here:
MARTIN COUNTY — In a last-minute change to what had been shaping up as a no-contest, the race for Martin County Commission District 1 seat is now poised to draw a lot of attention in a race beginning to mirror the drama from four years ago.
Longtime Commissioner Doug Smith will be running against environmentalist Jo Neeson in the Republican primary, Aug. 18.
The primary was slated to be open, available for any voter, regardless of party to cast a ballot, but a last-second write-in candidate has closed the primary to Republicans.
The write-in candidate, Vincenza Zocco, lives in Stuart, outside of District 1, which is mainly comprised of Jensen Beach. In order to appear on the ballot for the general election, Nov. 3, Zocco must take up residency in District 1 by the time of the election, Supervisor of Elections Vicki Davis said.
Zocco, who did not respond to a request for comment, could end up not moving and not end up on the ballot, still could heavily influence the election. By the sheer act of running as a write-in candidate, it allows Smith to run in a closed, Republican primary, something Neeson said she’s upset about.
“It’ll be an uphill battle. I’m an openly gay woman,” Neeson said Friday. “It’ll be more of a struggle now that it’s a closed primary. It probably would’ve been a cakewalk if it was an open primary.”
In 2016 Neeson switched to the Republican party to be able to vote for Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, who narrowly lost to Smith in a closed-primary. Supporters of Thurlow-Lippisch, a strong advocate for clean waterways, believed she could have won the race if the primary was not closed by a write-in candidate. Smith then won with 90% of the vote against the write-in candidate in November.
Smith positioned himself as the candidate who can best ensure the recovery of the local economy, as officials grapple with the outfall of the coronavirus pandemic. Smith has been at the forefront in advocating for opening up the county for business and recreation.
“Something I’m encouraging our commission and staff to do is to understand and drill down deep on what has happened in our community, where are we relative to job creation and how are our businesses going to be able to move forward and get people back to where they were before COVID,” Smith said.