The race for mayor of Atlantic Beach has become a slugfest.
This isn’t particularly surprising to anyone who even casually follows the incestuous narrative of beaches politics, as the wealthy burgs on the eastern edge of J-ville are always hotbeds of drama. City proper has its share of backstabbing political brawls, but over on the ocean side of the ditch, you’ll find a den of sign-stealing, rumor-starting, complaint-filing sea snakes who can hardly host a seafood festival without a scandal.
This year, there are three candidates for Atlantic Beach mayor: frontrunners Mitch Reeves (the incumbent) and Ellen Glasser, and Milton “Sarge” Hall lagging behind in the sand dunes of the hinterland.
Far more entertaining than Mayweather v. McGregor, Reeves v. Glasser is a cage match between heavyweights unafraid of trading licks. And, as former Mayor Carolyn Woods learned in 2015, Reeves plays dirty when he finds himself against the ropes. In that campaign, Woods claimed that Reeves lied about her on a flier—lies serious enough that she was still smarting about it months after losing to him by less than 50 votes in a campaign waged along ideological lines, specifically Reeves’ idea that LGBTs should not be protected from discrimination and Woods’ that they should.
As the race between Reeves and Glasser has tightened, the mayor seems to have resorted to his old tricks. In June, a resident filed a complaint that Glasser doesn't meet the residency requirement to run for office, an allegation Reeves repeated to The Island Times; when that didn’t work, he turned to questioning Glasser’s family life in the public square in the hopes of scoring some votes, a slimy move that sometimes works but usually just makes the one crying “sinner” look like a jerk.
Not for nothing, here’s the thing about playing dirty: It only works if your opponent has more stinky laundry than you do. Failing that, make sure you’re better at digging up dirt than they are.
Neither seems to apply to Mitch “Boss Hog” Reeves, whose term of office has been peppered with drama.
Through no fault of Reeves’ the Gate gas station coming soon on Atlantic Boulevard was a controversy from the start. The commission voted to approve Gate’s zoning request in May 2016, much to the consternation of Beach Diner and other neighbors who’d opposed it. Public outcry ensued. At a subsequent meeting, Reeves got all sorts of cranky, whining that citizens hadn’t heard the commission’s side and whipping out a stack of documents he’d “studied” before approving Gate’s request, like he was some kid trying to prove he hadn’t plagiarized a paper.
Then in January, the Atlantic Beach city manager was fired in a shower of accusations that left everyone involved with egg on their face, definitely not a good look when you’re running for re-election.
On a less serious note, this year, Atlantic Beach lost its Tree City USA designation because it stupidly neglected to host an Arbor Day celebration. (Seriously, is it that hard to have a picnic on the last Saturday in April?) Sure, the designation is basically just a bragging right, but wealthy beach dwellers are known for their love of the tree canopy. Losing the Tree City USA moniker isn’t really a smart way to please the tree-hugging donor class.
If the contenders were trading body blows in earlier rounds, in late July, Glasser may have delivered the knockout punch when she filed an ethics complaint alleging that Reeves has been improperly benefiting from the office of mayor. As stated on his 2016 Statement of Financial Interests, Reeves works for G.T. Distributors, which, since he’s been mayor, has sold the city roughly $18,000 worth of police equipment. He is also listed on the company’s website as one of its outside sales representatives for the North Florida territory.
It bears mention that, while serving on the Public Safety Building Review Committee in 2012, Reeves narrowly dodged a claim that he had a conflict of interest for working for a company that sold equipment to the police department. In an April 2012 memorandum, City Attorney Alan Jensen wrote that there wasn’t a clear ethics violation because it didn’t appear that Reeves would receive any benefit from being a member of the committee. “However,” Jensen wrote, “there is more of an appearance of a conflict of interest, which could well be the public perception, based upon the fact that his employer sells equipment to the police department.”
Is it just a coincidence that five years later, Reeves has himself in a similar bind? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Atlantic Beach has hired outside counsel to review the complaint and anticipates an opinion will be issued before the Aug. 29 election.
With less than a week to go, it’s time to place your bets, folks, ’cause the stakes are high and rising.
Correction: This article previously incorrectly stated that Mitch Reeves filed the residency requirement complaint against Ellen Glasser.