Poker Run still needs approval from Key West leaders

Key West City Commissioners still haven’t decided the fate of the 45th annual Poker Run motorcycle event set for September.
Key West City Commissioners still haven’t decided the fate of the 45th annual Poker Run motorcycle event set for September. Keynoter

Key West city commissioners postponed until later this month a decision on whether to allow the 45th annual Phil Peterson’s Poker Run, a motorcycle-filled event that raises money for charity, to take place in September.

Safety was a main issue at Tuesday’s commission meeting held at City Hall, given an isolated incident last year at a downtown bar in which a motorcycle club member was arrested for beating the bar owner, John Mafera.

The Sunrise Rotary dropped its sponsorship of the event a month after last year’s Poker Run, which gives money to diabetes research.

“There’s a lot of controversy but let me tell you some of the facts. Police estimate 10,000 people come to Key West, less than 3,000 of those people sign up for our Poker Run,” said Drew Peterson from Peterson’s Harley-Davidson in Miami-Dade County, who added his father created the event in 1971 to bring business to the slow season in Key West. “Obviously, a lot more come for the party and the festivities.”

Peterson said even if he cancels the Poker Run, set for Sept. 15 to 17, he can’t stop people from coming to Key West expecting a motorcycle-themed week even if there are no official activities planned such as the closure of Duval Street for an open-air market.

Mark Rossi, a former city commissioner who owns a complex of bars on Duval Street, said the event helps service industry employees get through the late summer in Key West.

“"It helps the entire hospitality industry get through this slow time,” Rossi said. “They’re basically a very good group of people.”

“We show an average of 42 percent increase in business on that weekend alone,” said Shelley McInnis, owner of Pepe’s restaurant.

City Commissioner Sam Kaufman, however, questioned whether the event is safe for all. “I have kids,” he said.

Jessica Mafera, an owner of Rumor Lounge, where a Tampa-area firefighter allegedly attacked her husband during last year’s Power Run because he wouldn’t remove from the bar a woman with whom he was arguing, said it wasn’t biker gangs causing the brawl. But she still blamed the event for the bar fight.

“We've had threats made against my husband’s life since that time because we decided to press charges,” Mafera said. “It needs to be handled better. These are people who are members of a gang.”

“The person who did that vicious attack was a firefighter,” Peterson told commissioners. “I can't control these people.”

“There are a lot of concerns in Key West about this event,” Mayor Craig Cates said.

The commission next meets next June 20, starting at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Also on Tuesday, the commission:

▪ Approved by a 6-0 vote spending an additional $250,000 to fix concrete damage recently discovered at the Frederick Douglass Gym, a project pegged at $2 million originally. Commissioner Billy Wardlow was absent.

▪ Voted 6-0 to accept as a gift the abandoned diesel plant in Bahama Village from Keys Energy Services in as-is condition.

“Exactly what are we going to do with the buildings?” Commissioner Margaret Romero asked. City Manager Jim Scholl said the city needs space to manage the upkeep of the Truman Waterfront Park once it is completed.

▪ Recognized Flower Conroy as Key West’s poet laureate.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen