By Steve Plunkett
The race for District 89 in the Florida House may well come down to which party gets more voters to the polls Nov. 6.
The ballot features two barrier island residents: Ocean Ridge Mayor and lawyer Jim Bonfiglio, the Democrat, and Delray Beach accountant Mike Caruso, the Republican.
The Aug. 28 primaries were close, party-wise, with 12,437 Democrats casting ballots compared with 12,028 Republicans. District 89, which typically leans Republican, stretches along the coast from Boca Raton to Singer Island.
A third candidate, business owner Deborah Wesson Gibson, a Delray Beach mainlander, was not affiliated with a party and dropped out of the race in August.
In a letter to the state Division of Elections, Gibson, 55, said she was withdrawing to not peel off votes from the Democrat in the race. “It is not my intent to split the party’s votes and effectively lend a hand to whoever wins the Republican primary,” she said.
Bonfiglio, 65, who has campaigned on making life “easier, safer and better,” has been on the Ocean Ridge Town Commission since 2014 following 14 years on its Planning and Zoning Commission. He had $84,258 in campaign contributions through Oct. 19, the latest numbers available. He also lent his campaign $270,000 and added $5,368 in in-kind donations.
Bonfiglio, who was named mayor by his fellow commissioners in March, received only $2,003 from six donors with Ocean Ridge addresses. He had $311,975 in expenses and $47,651 cash on hand.
Caruso, 60, a forensic CPA who qualified to run for the House by collecting 1,241 signatures, says he will bring “real, experienced, community-based leadership” to the state Capitol. He has been a member of the Delray Beach Police Advisory Board and president of his homeowners association. As of Oct. 19 he had collected $227,787 in contributions, lent his campaign $204,125 in cash and given $304 in kind. His 51 donors with Delray Beach addresses contributed $25,662. Caruso’s expenses were $374,212 and he had $58,004 cash on hand.
Caruso, a self-described fiscal conservative, says now is not the time to raise taxes. “Instead we need to allow [everyday Floridians] to keep more of their money in their own pockets to help continue to fuel our robust Florida economy,” Caruso told the League of Women Voters.
Bonfiglio says the state needs to find more equitable and reliable revenue streams.
“I support 1) legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, 2) legalizing and taxing sports betting, 3) look more to corporations, LLCs and businesses to pay their fair share for the costs of government based on their revenue and degree they draw from our education system and use/over-use our infrastructure and threaten our environment, 4) claw back some of the tax breaks given to large businesses and corporations, especially the most recent federal income tax breaks,” he told the league.
Caruso has the endorsements of Boca Raton Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers, departing District 89 state Rep. Bill Hager, the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce and the county firefighters union.
Bonfiglio is endorsed by U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, Boynton Beach City Commissioner Justin Katz and School Board member Frank Barbieri, as well as the county Classroom Teachers Association.
Hager, who first won the District 89 seat in 2012, is leaving office because of term limits.