Meet VoteWater’s Gil Smart: “I didn’t come to paradise to watch it be destroyed”

VoteWater’s Gil Smart speak with South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Member Cheryl Meads during a recent outing on the St. Lucie River.

Welcome to “Meet VoteWater,” an occasional feature spotlighting the people behind the advocacy.

VoteWater Executive Director Gil Smart always wanted to live at the beach. But when the Pennsylvania native moved his family to Martin County during the algae-clogged “Lost Summer” of 2016, he was stunned by the devastation — and the reason behind it.

“It was an environmental crisis, sure,” said Smart, who spent 31 years as a journalist before taking the helm at VoteWater. “But it was also a political crisis,” he said, the result of weak regulations, lax enforcement and policy-makers unwilling to stand up to special interests.

Gil Smart plays guitar during a recent Vinyl Redux show.

As a journalist, Smart had covered and was drawn to the group’s bare-knuckled advocacy. It’s a legacy he seeks to continue, while using his background as an investigative reporter to dig into “Dirty Money” and other complex clean-water topics.

Smart, 56, also serves as Policy Director for Friends of the Everglades, as a member of the board of the Stuart-based Rivers Coalition, and on the advisory board for the Florida Right to Clean Water initiative. In his spare time the married father of three plays guitar and sings in a Stuart-area band called Vinyl Redux, follows political commentary and roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I didn’t come to paradise to watch it be destroyed,” said Smart. “Too many Florida politicians think everything is ‘fine’ and we can continue with business as usual. But we know that’s the path to another algae crisis — and worse.

“So if you’ve been following our work for a while, thanks for sticking with us.” said Smart. “And if you’re new here  welcome to the clean-water movement.”

Gil Smart speaks with State Rep. John Snyder during a February 2024 visit to Tallahassee.