By Joseph Cranney of the Naples Daily News
Bill Barnett, who has served three terms as Naples mayor, won a fourth Tuesday, beating incumbent John Sorey and City Councilwoman Teresa Heitmann.
Barnett received 4,350 votes, or 46 percent. That more than doubled the vote total of Sorey, who received 21 percent, or 2,019 votes. Sorey, who won an unopposed election in 2012, also finished behind Heitmann, who got 33 percent, or 3,091 votes.
In a brief speech at Cosmos Cafe & Pizzeria, Barnett stood on a bar stool and thanked his supporters.
"I was the underdog," Barnett said. "I love being the underdog."
Heitmann said the results show a large part of the community is unhappy with the city's direction.
"We won the minute we started campaigning," Heitmann said, surrounded by dozens of supporters at her Aqualane Shores home. "For someone who was supposed to be a contrarian and not have any support, I think we've gotten the issues out there."
At his campaign party at the Naples Beach Hotel, Sorey said he knew he lost after seeing the early absentee ballot and early voting results.
"It's over," Sorey said. "The voters have made their decision."
Sorey, who served one four-year term, congratulated Barnett and said he will stay involved in Naples
"I've been honored to be a mayor all these years," he said.
The city voters turned out in large numbers. Approximately 5,700 votes were cast through early voting or by mail. At least 4,200 voted Tuesday. The city's turnout rate, at approximately 62 percent, was a jump from turnouts in presidential primaries in 2012 and 2008. The city turned out 51 percent of its voters in 2012 and 56 percent in 2008.
The vote ended one of the city's most competitive and expensive races in recent memory.
Barnett, 75, and Sorey, 72, combined to raise close to $300,000, dwarfing the amounts raised by any Naples mayoral candidate on record. Most of the money was donated since September, when Barnett announced he was opposing Sorey.
That move came after a monthslong lobbying effort by local businessmen and politicians, who didn't approve of the job Sorey was doing and thought Barnett could do better. Barnett joined the mayor's race when he learned he would have the support of three sitting members of the council — Doug Finlay, Linda Penniman and Vice-Mayor Dee Sulick.
Penniman and Sulick volunteered for Barnett at voting precincts Tuesday, holding up signs and thanking people for voting. Finlay drove a 94-year-old voter to the polls who said he wanted to vote for Barnett, but couldn't get there.
In the backroom at Cosmo's for Barnett's viewing party Tuesday night, the first cheer came around 7:20 p.m., when the two TV's above the bar showed Barnett's 12-point lead after early voting and mail-in ballots were counted.
The Naples Daily News called the election for Barnett a little after 8 p.m. Barnett learned he won when a supporter handed him the news story on a cellphone. Barnett raised his right fist and yelled, "Where's my wife?"
The crowd of dozens started to chant, "Mayor Bill! Mayor Bill! Mayor Bill!"
Barnett was mayor from 1996-2000 and 2004-12. His decision to run for a fourth term, which came as he gave up his candidacy for another four years on the council, was a surprise to some.
"Both of us have our work cut out," Sorey, who served with Barnett on the council from 2004-12, said on Sept. 4. "I don't think Bill's ever had a real election. This will be a real election."
Less surprising was Heitmann's announcement in January that she was entering the race. She said her constituency was tired of the "good ol' boy network" and said she posed a viable alternative to Barnett and Sorey, noting their similar voting records.
Heitmann's eight-year term on the council was marked by dissension. She has sparred with the city manager and the city clerk over city business and the handling of city records. She often votes in the minority, and voted by herself more than all of the other council members combined since 2012.
Heitmann, 53, said she wouldn't run a major fundraising campaign. In two months, she raised about $20,000. Barnett raised more than $118,000 and Sorey raised close to $180,000. Barnett and Sorey's totals are the largest in a Naples mayor's race since 2000, as far back as the city keeps contributions records.
But in debates, Heitmann stood out when she consistently took different positions than Barnett and Sorey on hot-button issues like downtown redevelopment and the city's building and land-use plans. Heitmann seemed to win over an overflow crowd at the City Council chambers on Jan. 25, during the race's first three-way debate, when she took an impassioned stance against overdevelopment.
Barnett said his relationship with Sorey has been "damaged," but said he would like Sorey and his wife, Delores, to stay involved. Barnett noted their participation on the design of Baker Park.
"The campaign's over," Barnett said. "Had it been the other way, we would have shaken hands and we would have moved on with the business of the city."
Reporters Maria Perez and Greg Stanley contributed to this report