WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After $100,000 in total contributions, dozens of attack ads, cellphone robo-calls and a lawsuit, District 5 looks exactly like it has for the past 12 years.
Bill Moss survived the toughest re-election of his career, defeating attorney Dodger Arp for a seventh term on the commission, ultimately by a comfortable margin. In a much-less contested race in District 1, appointed Commissioner Sylvia Moffett earned her first full-term, defeating 22-year-old bank teller Sean Jackson and write-in candidate Paul McCullough.
Under commission term limits voters also approved Tuesday, Moss and Moffett, if re-elected, can serve in office until 2020. Commissioners will now be limited to serving four consecutive two-year terms in office. Another ballot question, to extend commission terms from two years to three, failed.
After running unopposed in 2010, Moss found himself in a tight contest against a well-financed candidate with widespread support in the district, which Moss had never won. But elections in West Palm Beach are citywide, and Moss had the support of Mayor Jeri Muoio, former Mayor Lois Frankel and much of the western communities, the city's most influential voting bloc.
The often ugly race became even more heated when Moss was sued for alleged defamation last week by Public Concepts, the political consulting firm that employs Arp. While Moss purchased an ad in The Palm Beach Post to apologize for incorrectly stating that Public Concepts had been fined in court for attacking public officials, the company went ahead with the lawsuit.
"You can't underestimate the voters," Moss said. "People were able to see through a lot of the negative campaigning and I think that made the difference. They learned the issues and in a small turnout like this, it's mostly the educated voters that vote."
For Arp supporters, it was a disappointing finish to a promising contest. Arp was backed by many of the south end's power players, including Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell. His campaign took a hit last week when a third candidate, David Smith, dropped out of the race and endorsed Moss. Arp's campaign was hoping for a runoff election that would have made Moss appear vulnerable.
Arp, who called Moss to concede, said he's looking forward to "being involved in West Palm Beach's future in any role that I possibly can."
"Bill is very popular in the western district and he obviously did very well out there," Arp said. "Anytime you're going up against a 12-year incumbent, we knew we had a real big challenge before us."
While Moffett had little name recognition when she was appointed last year to replace Molly Douglas, who resigned to run for mayor, Moffett was backed by Muoio and Frankel and benefited from opponents with little money or campaign structure.
"It shows the citizens are behind me, the citizens are voting for me, and I think it's quite different," Moffett said of no longer being appointed. "I'm going to work on quality-of-life issues in the neighborhoods, and we've got to make sure the water issues are delved into."
Jackson said he was proud of his campaign and that he will run again and plans to start a mayoral recall effort.
"I'm looking forward to doing it again in two years, and I'm looking forward to ensuring we have a new mayor," he said.
While Moffett and Moss are limited to eight more years, they'll have to run for re-election in two.
Moss had been a strong supporter of extending commission terms from two years to three years, arguing that commissioners can't focus on topics if they run for re-election every two years. But the ballot question failed.
The closest ballot question, eliminating a runoff if the top vote-getter receives at least 40 percent of the vote, appeared narrowly voted down with most precincts counted.
Several other ballot questions easily passed, including allowing commissioners to summon department heads to meetings. Previously, the mayor had to give approval for department heads to appear in front of the commission.
Also, vacancies caused by a commissioner resigning will now be filled by election instead of appointment.
Special elections will be less common, after voters agreed to extend the time between an initiative or referendum petition being filed before the election is held, as well as to extend the time of a mayoral appointment to make a special mayoral election coincide with November or March elections.