The race for three seats on Titusville City Council has been among the most contentious of local races in recent years.

During the primary, three write-in candidates working on a joint campaign, Roger Gordon, Dennis Peden and Jon Crouch, managed to almost completely fill every balloted spot, defeating two incumbents in the process.

Gordon and Peden managed to reach both the Republican and Democratic tickets through write-in votes. Crouch got onto the Democratic ballot, but was kept from the third Republican spot by Jayla Pertz, who received the most amount of votes in the primary by a small margin, at 238 Republican votes. Gordon took second in the run at 234, while Peden grabbed the last spot with a tally of 224. Crouch received 203 votes on the Republican side.

However, including the write-ins they received in the race for the Democratic nominations, Gordon, Peden and Crouch received the most amount of votes in the election overall. Peden received 166 Democratic votes, while Gordon got 161 and Crouch took 156.

Both incumbents in the race, Heather Leonardi and Deputy Mayor William Adelman, did not receive enough votes to appear on either ballot. Adelman has launched a write-in campaign for the general election, intent on holding his seat despite the primary loss. The third open position on council is for the seat of Mayor Esther Smith, who has decided not to run for reelection.

Both Peden and Gordon have experience serving in Titusville city government. Peden is a former city councilman, having first been elected to the board in 1979, and also worked as the Titusville City Manager from 1984 to 1993. He later was reelected to council in 2005 following a write-in campaign and became mayor in 2008. He resigned at the end of the year, citing a desire to focus on being with his family and working his full-time job.

Gordon served on council starting in 1993, appointed to fill a vacancy by the resignation of Carl Meinstereifel, and later becoming mayor in January of 1994. He resigned in a surprise announcement in March of that year.

Crouch, meanwhile, grew up in the Titusville area, but moved to Florida around 1983. During his time away, he worked at the Federal Aviation Administration and, in 2011, become the head of professional standards for the group, overseeing 54 supervisors.

Pertz currently serves on the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce Board and with the Titusville YWCA as the board secretary. Despite her civic involvement, Pertz said she has no desire to be a politician, but wants to give back to the community she’s lived in for most of her life, as well as get more people from her generation involved in political decision making. She favors the current direction city government has been following.

“As far as goals go, I don’t have very specific ones, but I have a goal of maintaining the fiscal responsibility that our current leaders (and) the positions they have put us in,” she said.

Crouch has expressed a desire to keep communication between council and the public strong, allowing people to voice their opinions no matter what. He criticized the current administration for having called police to escort people out of council meetings, such as what was done at the July 28, 2017, City Council meeting for Leah Carter, organizer of the Titusville Open-Air Market. Police were also called to the April 16 council meeting this year in response to the refusal of Titusville resident James Elliott to move a tripod he uses to film council meetings. While Elliott was not escorted out of the meeting in the end, but police did move his camera further back in the meeting room.

“I thought that the people needed to have a voice from a person who has the life experience with how to treat people,” Crouch said.

Peden said he wanted to run in order to give Titusville residents more of a choice in the upcoming election. He clarified that the past several elections have mostly had uncontested races for City Council seats or last-minute write-ins, in conjunction with appointments made to council spots between elections.

Peden said he wants to increase transparency in council actions and, similar to Crouch, increase communication with the public.

“You know, the future of a community isn’t just in the hands of five council members and a city manager,” he said. “The future of a community has to be the community being involved.”

Both Crouch and Peden, while speaking with The Herald, responded to rumors that they wanted to fire various city employees, and claimed that power does not rest with council for the most part.

“The fact is, under the council-manager form of government, no council member, including the mayor, can offer employment, hire anybody or fire anybody,” Peden said. “Under our present form of government, city council as a council, not as individuals, has the responsibility to hire the city manager and turnover all employment activity to him.”

Gordon said he hopes to promote the Titusville community through cooperation with various local organizations, naming the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Titusville Redevelopment Authority as some examples. He also said he wants to make the areas people drive into Titusville more presentable in order to give a better first impression of the town.

He also wants to grow community pride, calling it a “very important aspect” to bringing businesses in town. In addition, he wants to help local businesses already here grow.

Adelman, an engineer back background, described himself as a problem-solver. He said he hopes to continue with the course the city has been heading for the last eight years, and said he is proud of many of the accomplishments he’s been involved with in that time.

“By mid-2020, the city should be completely debt free,” Adelman said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of cleaning up the blighted properties around town. I’m pretty proud of the splash pad that we put in (at Burgess Park), and I guess in the general appearance and upkeep of city properties.”

Titusville residents will be able to choose three candidates when they head to the polls Tuesday. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pertz, Gordon and Peden will be on the Republican ballot, while Gordon, Peden and Crouch will appear on the Democratic ballot. Adelman can be written in, regardless of the voter’s party.

Ray can be reached, by email, at sray@titusvilleherald.com.

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