Guest post: Key West Mayor Johnston backed cruise ship reform – and now has a target on her back

The following is a guest post from a concerned Key West citizen regarding the Mayoral race between incumbent Teri Johnston and challenger Margaret Romero.

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston has been on the front lines of local efforts to protect water quality in the Florida Keys from the negative impacts of unregulated large cruise ship operations.

She was elected to her second term as Mayor during the same 2020 election in which voters passed three historic voter referendums imposing strict limits on the size of ships permitted to call in Key West. As Key West’s only citywide elected representative (the other members of the City Commission represent single-member districts), Mayor Johnston has consistently defended the demonstrated will of the voters.

As the Florida Legislature moved to preempt the local regulations in early 2021, Mayor Johnston traveled to Tallahassee with a group of Florida Keys fishermen to speak out against the bill and even joined their protest in front of the Governor’s mansion. When Governor DeSantis signed the bill anyway, despite news that he had taken a $1 million donation from a Key West cruise pier operator, Mayor Johnston effectively led the City Commission in a series of votes and actions which have significantly limited cruise ship operations — and which have shown the limits of the Governor’s heavy-handed approach.

There was the unanimous 7-0 vote which has completely stopped cruise activity at two of Key West’s three piers and has made 2-ship and 3-ship days a thing of the past. There was the hard-fought 5-2 vote against an expansion of operations at the privately operated Pier B — an expansion which had been heavily lobbied by DeSantis’s $1 million donor. And there were the firm questions and clear direction Mayor Johnston gave to the City’s former Port Director and City Manager at public meetings, which have exposed and stopped the town’s longstanding practice of using public property for the benefit of large cruise ships.

Mayor Johnston’s support for clean water is not limited to the cruise ship issue. As a member of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Committee and the FKNMS Water Quality Protection Program Steering Committee, she has consistently advocated for a new water quality monitoring program to be developed and deployed in Key West’s nearshore waters. Under the Mayor’s leadership, the Key West City Commission recently approved a mechanism which will contribute municipal funds to an EPA-funded monitoring program which will produce valuable data about water quality around Key West. Her office recently reported that this program has expanded in scope and is set to receive $180,000 in City funding in the upcoming budget.

Mayor Johnston is clearly a champion for clean water and environmental protection in Key West. But her support for cruise ship reform has made her a target for powerful interests who now seek to oust her from office.

Her opponent, Margaret Romero, is capitalizing on a multi-year negative attack campaign which now falsely portrays the Mayor as a “tyrant” whose actions are unsupported by the community. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To continue the gains the people of Key West have made in their battle against large cruise ships, and to build a comprehensive monitoring system that will provide water quality data for future efforts, local voters should re-elect Mayor Teri Johnston.