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Key West mayor wants an end to ‘protesters,’ saying ‘an epidemic’ divides the island

Mayor Craig Cates, far right, presents a commendation to Montessori School teacher Sally Zeman, who is pictured with student Finn Hickey, at City Hall earlier this month.
Mayor Craig Cates, far right, presents a commendation to Montessori School teacher Sally Zeman, who is pictured with student Finn Hickey, at City Hall earlier this month.

Key West Mayor Craig Cates delivered his State of the City address this week, giving rave reviews to his hometown.

“Your taxes are lower than if you lived in the [unincorporated] county,” Cates said, ticking off what he called the city’s accomplishments — the opening of a $19 million City Hall — and priorities, such as increasing affordable housing units.

“It’s a great time to be in Key West,” he said.

There is one thing Cates wishes would go away: Protests.

“We must make it a priority to reunify our community in 2017. Our community is suffering a great divide,” Cates said Wednesday evening at City Hall, 1300 White St., during a 13-minute speech, adding the current national tension comes from either the recent presidential election or “a new era of how people are affected and deal with things.”

Cates said, “We do not need to protest every single opinion that differs from one another.”

Key West is a laid back island town where “anything goes” and people would offer a neighbor bag of mangoes from a tree that goes back generations in his family without a second thought “is now a place where people are feeling angry and hurt,” Cates said.

“Love thy neighbor, be charitable,” Cates said. “Let’s celebrate the positive things in life that we experience every day. Let’s work together this year and keep Key West moving forward.”

Critics said the mayor is missing the point of protests, which date back to the founding of America such as during the Boston Tea Party.

“It is our constitutional duty, not just our constitutional right, to protest and dissent if we don’t agree with something,” said Tony Yaniz, a former city commissioner and political rival of the mayor. “That is really what makes America great — in capital letters. I will continue to protest whatever I think is unfair, whether it’s on federal level or local level.”

Women took to Facebook to call out the mayor.

“He hasn’t even seen protesting yet!” Key West resident Jeanne LaRrance posted.

Cates, mayor since 2009, said, “The epidemic that is affecting our entire country has managed to make its way down here. Let us not forget we are all here because we have similar beliefs, and respect and tolerance.”

Protests by locals from across the Florida Keys have popped up around town since the inauguration of President Trump, drawing anywhere from 200 people for a Jan. 30 rally criticizing Trump’s Muslin travel ban to the initial Women’s March movement that put 3,200 people on Duval Street the day after the 45th president’s swearing-in.

While public parties and events, of which Key West has about 80 a year, are common on the island, the sizes of crowds protesting political issues isn’t something that has cropped up in recent years.

The March on Duval included many people from up the Keys. One Marathon family came down to march the length of Key West’s worldwide famous street.

Yaniz added he feels like protesting the mayor’s call to end protests.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen

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