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Wife of Parkland’s slain athletic director is top vote getter in Broward School Board seat

Carli Teproff
·6 mins read

For the first time in more than 40 years, Broward will have a new state attorney.

The office was one of several key posts contested in Tuesday’s primary, and is one of two critical criminal justice positions in the county left open by retirements: Mike Satz, 77, retired after more than four decades as the county’s chief prosecutor, and Howard Finkelstein, 67, retired after 33 years with the public defender’s office, the last 16 as public defender.

Other Broward races included the supervisor of elections, clerk of courts, two school board seats and two county commission seats.

Pembroke Pines had a special election for its District 4 seat and a referendum question asking voters whether the city should terminate its red light cameras.

While voter turnout on Tuesday was low with only about 50,000 of the approximately 1.3 million

registered voters casting ballots, Broward had a higher-than-usual number of people voting by mail with more than 200,000 ballots received. Another approximately 40,000 people voted at early voting sites.

In all, turnout was about 25 percent — with more than 300,000 votes cast — which was higher than the August 2018 primary when turnout was 23.8 percent, and higher than the 23.8 percent turnout in the August 2016 primary, the previous presidential election year.

On Tuesday, voters who are registered as Democrats chose from a field of eight candidates for Broward State Attorney. Harold Fernandez Pryor appeared to be the winner with almost all the votes counted by receiving 21 percent of the vote.

He will face Republican Gregg Rossman, a former Broward assistant state attorney, and Independent Sheila Alu, a former Sunrise commissioner in the Nov. 3 election. Rossman or Alu did not face challengers.

Harold Fernandez Pryor
Harold Fernandez Pryor

But with Broward being the most heavily Democratic county among the state’s 67 counties, Pryor should have a good chance of winning the seat that has been occupied since November 1976 by Satz, who announced last year that he would not run again and would focus instead on the prosecution of Nikolas Cruz until the end of his term.

Cruz, the then 19-year-old who killed 17 students and staffers at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, is facing the death penalty. The trial has been delayed because of COVID-19 concerns.

Broward State Attorney Mike Satz, first elected in 1976, announced he would not seek reelection in 2020.
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz, first elected in 1976, announced he would not seek reelection in 2020.

The Democratic candidates running for state attorney were: Pryor, David Cannady, Teresa Fanning-Williams, Joe Kimok, James “Jimmy” Stewart Lewis, Justin McCormack, Sarahnell Murphy, and Joshua David Rydell. Kimok had the second most votes, with about 19 percent.

In the public defender’s race, three candidates were vying to replace the retiring “Help Me Howard” Finkelstein. Finkelstein, who has held the office since 2004, worked in the public defender’s office for 33 years with an additional seven in private practice.

Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein
Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein

The three candidates running for the seat were Ruby Lenora Green, Tom Lynch and Gordon Weekes.

Weekes, the executive chief assistant public defender, held a large lead with about 48 percent of the vote, with almost all the votes counted. Before the election, Weekes said in a Sun Sentinel questionnaire that his top priority is equality in the justice system.

“I have worked my entire career to act as a voice of reason and compassion,” he said. “I have stood against the criminalization of youthful misbehavior, supported people living with mental illness and those battling addiction. As public defender, I will continue to work to ensure that equality, fairness and justice is accessible to everyone in the community through the work we do in each individual case.”

Gordon Weekes, chief assistant public defender in Broward County
Gordon Weekes, chief assistant public defender in Broward County

While Weekes will most likely be the next public defender, there is a write-in candidate who filed for November’s general election.

Also on the ballot Tuesday were two Broward County School Board seats. Four were up for election, but two board members did not face challengers and were automatically elected.

For the District 3 seat, which covers East Broward, Incumbent Heather Brinkworth faced challenger, Sarah Leonardi. Leonardi, a teacher, appeared to have bested Brinkworth, who has held the seat since 2014, by receiving about 52 percent of the vote, with nearly all votes counted.

Leonardi told the Sun Sentinel in a questionnaire before the election that “reopening schools is currently the most challenging and pressing matter facing Broward County Public schools...”

Sarah Leonardi
Sarah Leonardi

The most sought-after seat was the District 9 seat, which is an at-large position and represents the county. The seat was vacated by longtime member Robin Bartleman, who ran for a Florida House seat.

The five candidates running for that seat were: Debra Hixon, Narnike Grant, Jeff Holness, Joyce “Jersey-Girl Bryan and Jimmy Bernard Witherspoon.

Debra Hixon
Debra Hixon

Hixon, the widow of Marjory Stoneman Douglas athletic director Chris Hixon, who was killed in the shooting, was the top vote-getter with about 42 percent of the vote.

She will face Jeff Holness, who according to the Sun Sentinel, has owned a math and reading training franchise for the last five years, in the Nov. 3 runoff for the seat, which comes with a four-year-term. Holness received about 26 percent of the vote.

Jeff Holness
Jeff Holness

Other Broward races:

Supervisor of Elections: When former supervisor of elections Brenda Snipes resigned after several problems arose during the 2018 elections, Pete Antonacci was appointed to run the department. With Antonacci not running, the seat was open for the first time since Snipes was appointed in 2003.

The candidates running for the seat were: Ruth Carter-Lynch, Mitchell “Mitch” Ceasar, Jennifer Leonard Gottlieb, Chad Klitzman, Tim Lonergan, and Joe Scott.

Scott clung to a small lead over Klitzman. By Wednesday, Scott had 24.8 percent and Klitzman had about 24.5 percent. Florida law requires an automatic recount in races that are separated by less than half a percent.

Joe Scott
Joe Scott

The winner will face Republican Catherine McBreen on Nov. 3.

Clerk of Courts: Incumbent Brenda D. Forman, who was first elected in 2016, faced two challengers Tuesday, Paul Lawrence Backman and Mark A. Speiser, for the non-partisan seat. Both Backman and Speiser are retired circuit court judges and said the main issues with the office are competency, technology and office morale, according to to the Sun Sentinel.

With almost all the votes counted, Forman was reelected with about 45 percent of the vote. Speiser received about 35 percent and Backman received about 20 percent of the vote.

Brenda Forman
Brenda Forman

Forman will take office in January.

Broward County Commission: Two out of nine seats were up for election.

In the District 7 race, which includes Dania Beach, Wilton Manors and parts of Fort Lauderdale, Incumbent Tim Ryan faced challenger Rita Lipof. Ryan, an attorney, easily beat Lipof with about 71 percent of the votes.

Tim Ryan
Tim Ryan

In the District 9 race, incumbent Dale Holness faced Garrington Essue for the seat, which includes Lauderdale Lakes and parts of Fort Lauderdale, Sunrise and several other areas. Holness, who is currently the mayor of Broward County, received nearly 87 percent of the vote with almost all the votes counted.

Dale Holness
Dale Holness

There is a write-in candidate for the seat in the November elections.

Pembroke Pines: In a special election, voters decided a commission seat and a referendum.

For the District 4 seat, the candidates were Elizabeth Burns, Angelo Castillo, Larissa Chanzes and David Tringo. Angelo Castillo received about 50 percent of the vote with almost all ballots counted.

In the referendum, voters were asked if the city should terminate the city’s red light camera enforcement program. Voters overwhelmingly decided the city should stop the program with about 76 percent of voters saying yes.