Matt Willhite pulls ahead in money race for Palm Beach County Commission seat
Matt Willhite makes solid bank.

The outgoing state Representative has been neck and neck in the money race with Michelle Oyola McGovern.

Powered with more than $50,000 in firefighter donations last month, Democratic state Rep. Matt Willhite took the lead over his chief rival in the money race to represent District 6 on the Palm Beach County Commission.

In April, Democrat Michelle Oyola McGovern’s campaign kitty got a $20,000 donation from a West Palm Beach law enforcement political committee, Citizens for Law Order and Ethics. She raised another $10,600 for her personal account as well. But it wasn’t enough to stay in the lead she’s had for the past few months.

Willhite now has an $11,000 advantage as he continued to haul in firefighter union donations.

After April donations and expenses, Willhite netted $36,396 while McGovern’s net gain was almost $14,000. In total cash, Willhite has $311,509 on hand compared to McGovern’s $300,581 cash on hand.

McGovern is an administrator with Baptist Health and former longtime head staffer for ex-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Willhite is a firefighter and an outgoing legislator who decided to pursue a Commission seat instead of another term in the Statehouse.

The two have been running neck and neck in the money race for the seat for months. They are competing in a three-way Primary, along with fellow Democrat Sylvia Sharps.

Sharps has a total of $9,146 on hand. She raised $1,000 in April and spent $430.

The winner of that contest will then face Republican Sara Baxter, who has $17,432 to spend in the race. In April, Baxter raised $798.

The seat represents Palm Beach County’s largest Commission district in land mass. It came open because its current occupant, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, is term-limited in her role. She has endorsed McGovern to be her successor.

Willhite collected $52,112 in donations during April. The vast majority of Willhite’s April donations — $50,000 — came from the Professional Firefighters/Paramedics of Palm Beach County. The union gave that contribution to Willhite’s campaign committee, Floridians for Public Safety.

Willhite belongs to that union. Between March and April, the same union has chipped in $100,000 to Willhite’s campaign.

The largest donation to Willhite’s personal account was from Dr. Brad Glick, a Margate dermatologist, who gave $750. Willhite received another $500 from the Coral Gables firefighters’ union and some $25 and $50 donations from individual firefighters in April.

Willhite spent $15,716 in April and just about all of it — $15,449 — went to MDW Communications for direct mail consulting.

McGovern, meanwhile, collected a total of $30,612 in April. The $20,000 donation to McGovern’s campaign came in through her political committee, Team McGovern, that she shares with her husband, Wellington Village Councilman John McGovern, who won re-election in March.

McGovern’s April donor list shows Ron Book, considered one of Tallahassee’s most powerful lobbyists, chipped in $1,000 to McGovern’s personal account as a private individual and another $1,000 from his law firm. McGovern also got $1,000 checks from Pat Book, a Hollywood bakery owner; RE Expert LLC, a Coconut Creek legal service; Kaufman Lynn Construction, a Delray Beach construction company; Joseph Johnson, a Palm Beach Gardens lawyer: the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, a West Palm Beach police union; Cemex Materials, a West Palm Beach building material company; and TKM-Bengard Farms LLC in Belle Glade.

McGovern’s campaign wrote a check for $16,176 to Cornerstone Solutions for direct mail service. It was April’s biggest expense.

The district covers several western communities, largely regarded as the agricultural part of Palm Beach County, such as Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay and Wellington.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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