Local business owners are among the candidates in the race for Lee County commissioner for District 5, a seat left vacant by the death of Commissioner Frank Mann in June.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed Mike Greenwell, one of the candidates in the election, to fill the vacancy until a candidate is elected in November to serve the remaining two years of Mann’s term.
Greenwell is one of three Republicans who will be on the Aug. 23 primary ballot. Another Republican is running as a write-in.
Former Commissioner John Albion, who served 14 years on the county commission in the 1990s, works in real estate development as a broker and partner in family companies, is seeking to return to the commission.
Greenwell, who became a candidate before DeSantis appointed him to fill the vacancy, has operated several businesses in the county following 16 years as a professional baseball player in the 1980s and ’90s.
Joseph Gambino is a New York city native who has lived in the county for the past few years and operates a chiropractic practice here.
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A fourth Republican candidate, Angela Chenaille, a Fort Myers resident, qualified to run as a write-in on the Republican ballot after being unable to assemble the required candidacy papers in the two-day window created to qualify candidates to run in a special election to succeed Mann.
No matter who wins the primary election, there will be a final election Nov. 8, in which Lehigh Acres resident Matt Wood will also be on the ballot as the Democratic nominee.
Greenwell is 59 years old, Albion will be 60 in August, Gambino is 43, Chenaille is also 43 and Wood is 33.
Voters countywide cast ballots in all county commission races even though each of the five districts has its own commissioner.
Frank Mann dies:Family obituary for the late Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann.
Albion has built a career in real estate and development. In addition to working for Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Properties, he also works for family businesses involved in real estate.
He said he decided to run because he considers the time is right with a board of county commissioners that shares his view on some issues.
“I see a board that is already working well, in trying to solve problems, so I think that where the county is and where the board is, this could be very exciting to try and get involved with and really make things happen,” he said. “One of the areas I am particularly excited about for the county is the thought process of trying to increase and maintain capacity on roads, rather than just build new roads.”
Now that he is a candidate, Albion says developing vacant land is becoming less of a solution for the county’s growth needs
“There is a supply and demand curve and there’s a point where it is a diminishing return,” he said in an interview.
“I’m a lifelong resident of Lee County, I raised my family here, my grandchildren are being raised here,” Greenwell said.
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Greenwell recalls speaking with President Ronald Reagan during his baseball days and asked a question that brought a response he hasn’t forgotten.
“I was just 25 years old, and I asked him, ‘Mr. President, why did you want to become president,'” Greenwell recalled. “He said, ‘Some day you will figure out that you either have to just keep sitting down or shutting up or some day you’ll want to stand up and talk and do something about it.”
Greenwell said he remembers Reagan’s remarks when he sees the turns his home county has taken.
“It’s time for me to get involved,” he said. “We need to start having some good smart growth and cleaning up that river. I just want to be a part of it.”
Greenwell, his children and grandchildren live off State Road 31, which is planned as a four-lane road in the future, and near State Road 82, which is seeing increases in commercial traffic. He said he wants to see preservation of the way people live, but with amenities such as places to shop along its major roads.
“We are fortunate, in a way, that we have Alva. Alva is its own little entity; it can always stay rural, I hope it does stay rural,” Greenwell said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t go ahead and see the infrastructure that makes it better for the people that are out here, like the people in Alva, like the people in Lehigh, like the people in North Fort Myers.”
As the operator of a chiropractic practice, Gambino said he knows what small businesses face. He said he can also relate to people in the county with concerns over the quality of life and the impact of growth on the community.
“The residents of Lee County and District 5 need a voice and a strong voice, they need someone who is going to stay engaged with them and stay involved in the community and with community engagement,” Gambino said. “I have entrepreneur experience, I have financial management experience, I have fiscal experience, I believe that I have great communications skills.”
He calls for taking a closer look at how Lee County is growing.
“I think in certain areas, it may be getting too much out of control, all of these developers are developing at an exponential rate,” Gambino said. “I have no agenda. I have no hidden agenda, and I am going to do what is right for the people.”
Write-in candidate Chenaille has lived in Lee County for more than 30 years, having moved to Southwest Florida from Illinois while a preschooler.
“My parents dragged me down here and I have no regret. I love Southwest Florida,” said Chenaille, who attended local schools from grade school to college.
She has worked in land development, new construction and real estate sales, and said she has developed a “passion for preserving the community” and preserving water quality and other community needs.
“The people here, they need a voice,” she said, “I am a conservative Christian, and I want to do the right thing. I am a people person.”
Chenaille said her campaign is not aimed at the sitting commissioners but will mean bringing a different perspective to the commission.
“Women add a little bit of sensitivity and community and understand that the children need street lights and sidewalks,” Chenaille said. “I’m not trying to insult anybody. I’m not trying to take away from what they’ve done. I’m just trying to add a different perspective.”
Chenaille said she will bring a focus on the need for infrastructure during a time when the county has experienced substantial growth developing land and attracting new residents.
“I’ve been talking to some of the community members and trying to get some feedback and get my hands around it,” she said. “I’m going to be their person.”
Since Chenaille is a write-in candidate, she is not on the ballot for the Aug. 23 primary election.
Wood said his candidacy was a surprise, even to himself.
“I have never done this before,” Wood said. “I haven’t been political all my life until I met my wife.”
Wood operates his own pressure washing business and says he wants to be “a new public servant.”
A resident of Lehigh Acres who lives close to the Hendry County line, Wood says there are issues in his community that he would like to address as a county commissioner.
“There is no infrastructure here. We’re overlooked — way overlooked,” Wood said. “I want to be a new public servant. I want to speak for the people here. There’s kids down here walking in the grass, no sidewalks, while waiting for the bus.”
Other issues he sees important in the race include the lack of food stores near Lehigh, and the need for affordable workplace housing in the city.