Ray Christman wins Naples City Council special election

Lisa Conley, Naples Daily NewsPublished 8:03 p.m. ET April 2, 2019 | Updated 10:28 p.m. ET April 2, 2019

After winning special election for Naples City Council, Ray Christman speaks with those in attendance at his watch party in Naples on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Morgan Hornsby, morgan.hornsby@naplesnews.com

Naples voters elected former Ethics Naples executive director Ray Christman to the City Council on Tuesday in a special election.

Christman got 2,241 votes, or 50.8% of the vote; Bill Moss received 1,497 votes, or 33.94%; Ted Blankenship received 439 votes, or 9.95%; and George Dondanville got 234 votes, or 5.3%.

The results are considered preliminary until the Collier County canvassing board certifies the election, though the results are not expected to change. Christman is scheduled to be sworn in during a City Council meeting April 17.

Ray Christman reacts at his watch party at Ridgway Bar and Grill in Naples on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, to hearing he won the special election for a seat on the Naples City Council. (Photo: Morgan Hornsby/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA)

The four candidates were seeking to replace former Councilwoman Linda Penniman, who resigned in January to spend time with her husband, Nick, who had been diagnosed with a rare illness.

Christman will serve the rest of Penniman's term, which will expire Feb. 1, 2022. 

Christman, 69, began his career in Pittsburgh as head of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority. He later moved into the banking industry and worked in the Federal Home Loan Bank system for 15 years.

After retiring from banking in 2007, Christman began working for local conservancies and environmental groups. In 2011, he was appointed southeastern U.S. director for The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization.

Christman said making sure there's balance between accommodating development and preserving the city's residential feel will be his biggest priority as a councilman.

"How do we continue to grow in a balanced way and have development occur that meets our ordinance standards and limitations and also allows the character and sense of identity of Naples to be maintained in terms of height, density and setback?" he said at his election watch party at Ridgway Bar & Grill. "That's really the biggest issue."

Christman also said improving water quality is "paramount," and will be another one of his priorities as a council member.

Christman most recently served on the city's Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board and also served as the executive director of Ethics Naples, a political action committee currently embroiled in a legal battle with the city regarding a referendum aiming to create an ethics commission.

He stepped down from both positions when he decided to run for City Council.

Ray Christman reacts to hearing he won the special election for a seat on the Naples City Council at his watch party at Ridgway Bar and Grill in Naples on April 2, 2019. (Photo: Morgan Hornsby/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA)

Naples resident Nancy Temple campaigned for Christman Tuesday morning outside Moorings Presbyterian Church. Temple said she believes he's the best person for the job.

"He's the most wonderful candidate we’ve ever had. He’s so qualified it’s amazing," she said. "And he’s just such a compassionate person. He’s really for the residents.”

Bill Lutz, president of the Coquina Sands Property Owners Association and treasurer of Ethics Naples, also supported Christman because “his background is extremely good ... and he’s a person of high integrity.”

Dan Sheridan wears a Ray Christman pin on his hat during a special election for a vacant Naples City Council position at precinct 462 at St. John Episcopal Church in Naples on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (Photo: Alex Driehaus/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA)

Five of the six current city council members, including mayor Bill Barnett, endorsed Moss, retired Naples city manager.

"Bill Moss is not only knowledgeable and experienced, but a caring person as well," Barnett wrote in an endorsement statement. "He will be excellent for our city as a member of our Naples City Council."

Christman said he's not concerned about working with the council members who supported his opponent.

"I've worked with a lot of people where there are differences of opinion, so I know how to deal with issues and work collaboratively and get my point across respectfully," he said.

"I also think that the issues I've raised in this campaign and the response I received in the voting booth may very well cause members of the council to take a fresh look at their own views (on the issues he's raised during the campaign.)"

Councilman Terry Hutchison endorsed Christman, saying he was "the best candidate to represent the interests of the city’s homeowners and voters."

Linda Penniman (Photo: David Albers/Naples Daily News)

Penniman — who also endorsed Christman — and former City Council members Doug Finlay and Teresa Heitmann opposed Moss, calling his decision to run for council "unprofessional, thoughtless and onerous."

"Residents of Naples need a more independent voice on the City Council than the previous city manager, a voice not so heavily tied to past staff actions and initiatives," the three wrote in a letter to the editor last month. "Let's leave Naples with one city manager, a manager free of influence and oversight from the previous city manager."

While Moss and Christman share similar views on many of the city’s prominent issues, such as the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club redevelopment project, the two differ on the city’s need for an ethics ordinance, which has been a topic of discussion since the last City Council election in February 2018.

Christman, who as executive director of Ethics Naples helped lead the charge for stronger ethics in the city, supports the idea of establishing an independent ethics commission.

Meanwhile, Moss has said there's no need for a "secret, multimillion-dollar independent ethics commission. Instead he supports hiring an independent ethics expert to review and revise the city's ethics ordinance as needed.

Moss congratulated Christman on his win, and said he's open to staying involved in the city in some capacity. 

"The people of the city of Naples decided they wanted someone else to represent them, and I respect their decision," he said. "I look forward to the opportunity to do anything I can to continue to make the city of Naples the wonderful place that it is."

Moss volunteer Jane Cheffy, left, and Naples City Council candidate Bill Moss, right, talk to Ruth Goetz, center, during a special election for a vacant Naples City Council position at precinct 462 at St. John Episcopal Church in Naples on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (Photo: Alex Driehaus/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA)

Turnout for the election was 29%, surpassing that of last year's regularly scheduled council election.

Of the 15,452 eligible voters in Naples, 4,432 of them cast mail-in ballots or voted at the polls Tuesday. Turnout for last February's election was 25%.

Trish Robertson, spokeswoman for the Collier supervisor of elections office, said the elections office expected turnout to be between 18% and 20%.

"We're pleasantly surprised," she said. "I give credit to the city for getting the word out and the candidates for their push in this. I think it’s really impressive and we’re all really happy here to see these numbers."

Councilwoman Linda Penniman announced she's resigning effective immediately to spend more time with her husband, who has been diagnosed with a rare health condition. Lisa Conley, lisa.conley@naplesnews.com; 239-213-5308