Melissa Montoya, The News-PressPublished 3:47 p.m. ET Feb. 11, 2020 | Updated 9:12 a.m. ET Feb. 12, 2020
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he chairwoman of the Lee County Democratic Party has called for Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson to resign after releasing a politically charged campaign ad on social media she said is inappropriate and petty.
The ad is among the first for Henderson, who is running to fill the District 19 seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Naples. In it, Henderson addresses conservative ire over his giving the key to the city to Ilhan Omar in 2017.
Omar, a U.S. representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, was elected in 2018, on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party ticket.
Henderson’s campaign posted the ad on Facebook as well as YouTube last week.
United States Rep. Ilhan Omar joined hundreds of guests at the 30th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Breakfast, January 20, 2020 at The Armory in Minneapolis, Minn. The event featured several speakers, musical and dance performances, and a volunteering event. (Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune via AP)
In the ad, Henderson accused Omar of being an “anti-Semitic socialist,” claiming that he “didn’t know her politics then,” and he went so far to say he would ask for the key back.
Lee County’s Democratic Party Chairwoman Gabriele Spuckes said the ad shocked her.
In a letter sent to The News-Press, Spuckes said: “It is disappointing that at a time in our nation’s history when civility is rare and bi-partisanship almost nonexistent, that Mayor Randy Henderson of Fort Myers would engage in inappropriate, petty and childish rhetoric that is frankly insulting to the residents of the city, all of whom are his constituents, as we as the voters in the rest of the 19th district who he would presumably want to be his constituents.”
In the ad, Henderson said his conservative principles are the reason for the city’s lower tax rate and more jobs, the “same formula as Trump’s,” he adds.
“I am done playing nice with people who won’t show respect to President Trump,” Henderson also says in the ad.
“I just feel that this was completely inappropriate in many ways,” Spuckes said.
Spuckes said Henderson’s message was divisive. And, she added, the campaign ad makes it clear he is only running to defend Trump, not for any other issues that are important to people in Lee and Collier counties, like affordable housing and the environment.
“If he can’t act appropriately in that situation, I think he needs to resign,” Spuckes said.
Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson was the moderator fot the 2019 Community Prayer Breakfast at City of Palms Park on Thursday, May 2, 2019. The keynote speaker was Michael Hingson who escaped with guide dog Roselle, from the 78th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center moments before it collapsed on 911. Hingson has been blind since birth. (Photo: Andrew West/The News-Press USA Today Network-Florida, The News-Press)
Attempts to reach Henderson were unsuccessful, but in a Facebook post, Henderson said he was being attacked by the “politically correct liberal mob” and used it as an opportunity to fund raise.
“It’s the Democrat playbook,” he wrote. “They can’t beat us on the substance, so they attack your character.”
Henderson’s campaign spokesman Chasen Bullock echoed that sentiment in a statement emailed to The News-Press.
“As the liberal mob continues to distort the facts and manufactures false stories, the people of Fort Myers know that Mayor Henderson will never stop fighting against the socialism and anti-Semitism that is being peddled by Ilhan Omar and her supporters,” Bullock said.
Henderson was last elected in 2017 and his term as mayor runs through 2021. However, because the city of Fort Myers elected to move its elections to coincide with federal, state and county elections, Henderson was given an extra year to serve.
When Henderson plans to resign his mayoral office is unknown, but he will have to because of Florida’s resign-to-run law.
“That’s going to be a political call for him,” said Pamella Seay, an attorney and professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, who is also an elected official in Charlotte County. “When you are looking at the political arena, when is the best time?”ADVERTISING
Seay said Henderson doesn’t have to submit a resignation letter until up to 10 days before the qualifying date of April 20. Even then, he doesn’t have to leave the mayoral office until he takes his new office, Seay said.
“Mayor Henderson’s outstanding record of rebuilding Fort Myers has led to an economic boom in the area and he looks forward to serving as mayor until state law requires him to focus solely on the congressional campaign,” Bullock said in a statement.
Others have questioned whether the campaign ad was filmed in Henderson’s office at City Hall. In it, he is speaking from behind a desk and a nameplate that calls him the mayor of Fort Myers is visible.
But, it wasn’t his city hall office, said City Attorney Grant Alley.
Alley said he is unsure whether the suggestion to take Omar’s key back was a joke or not.
“He can certainly ask for the key to the city back but there is no mechanism to take it back,” Alley said.
Randy Henderson won a third consecutive term as Fort Myers mayor. (Photo: Andrea Melendez/The News-Press)
Who will be the next mayor of Fort Myers is unknown at this time, but at least one councilwoman has declared publicly her intent to run.
Gaile Anthony, of Ward 6, is gunning for the mayoral seat. Her ward and wards 2 and 4, Johnny Streets and Kevin Anderson, respectively, are scheduled for elections this year.
The city charter states that if a vacancy is created within six months of a general election, then there doesn’t have to be a special election, Alley said.
Once Henderson resigns, Alley said he would review the letter and determine whether the election will be held during the general election or if a special election will be needed.
“It’s election season,” Alley said.