Politics

Abolish Key West? Southernmost City Mayor Taking Threat Seriously

Draft language from a would-be bill aiming to "abolish Key West" as a municipality was widely circulated this week, drawing outrage and ridicule from city leaders, residents, and basically everyone with a pulse.
Draft language from a would-be bill aiming to "abolish Key West" as a municipality was widely circulated this week, drawing outrage and ridicule from city leaders, residents, and basically everyone with a pulse. Photo by Angel Valentin/Getty Images
The concept is as ambitious as it is fantastically outlandish.

Draft language from a would-be bill aiming to "abolish Key West" as a municipality was widely circulated this week, drawing outrage and ridicule from city leaders, residents, and basically everyone with a pulse.

"The city of Key West is abolished," the draft reads (New Times has included a screenshot of the draft at the end of the story). "All assets and legitimate liabilities and revenue streams of the City of Key West are transferred to Monroe County."

Who may have drafted the language and why remains to be seen. Though the general consensus among residents of the nation's southernmost city — founded in 1828, nearly two decades before Florida was even granted statehood — say the political ploy may be the work of lawmakers with ties to the cruise ship lobby. Key West voters resoundingly approved a slate of referendums last year that limit the operation of cruise liners coming and going from the island.
After New Times obtained a screenshot of the draft, Jenna Sarkissian, communications director for the Florida House of Representatives, says that the authenticity of the language can't be determined since drafts of bills are confidential and not public record. In fact, even state lawmakers cannot see drafts before they are officially filed.


Key West Mayor Teri Johnston tells New Times that she and her colleagues were made aware of the purportedly leaked draft on Tuesday, and that she has been in regular contact with Key West's city attorney, who is monitoring the situation.

"It should be an embarrassment to the entire Florida legislature," Johnston says. "The angst that it causes a community — it's really irresponsible, and that's the kindest thing I can say."

"It should be an embarrassment to the entire Florida legislature."

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While the draft itself lacks teeth (considering it is not an officially proposed bill), the mayor says the city is taking the vague threat seriously.

"We are certainly going to stay on top of this," Johnston says, "but the initial response is this is rogue draft language that needs to go."
News of the potential abolition of Key West comes nearly 40 years after the city threatened to secede from the rest of the country in 1982, after the federal government placed a roadblock on the Overseas Highway that caused a 17-mile traffic jam as U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped every vehicle coming in and out of the Florida Keys, "supposedly searching for illegal drugs and aliens who might be hiding under the front seats, in glove compartments, and in trunks," states ConchRepublic.com. The thinking went that if the Keys were going to be treated like a foreign country, they may as well be one.

Though the federal government doesn't recognize the city as a micronation, Key West certainly still identifies as one.


Martin Liz, who owns a catering company in town, is what you call a "Conch," as in, he is an island lifer with rich ties to the community. Liz is the youngest of eight siblings, and he says the origin story of his family in Key West dates back six generations.

"You have people born and raised here for generations who have gone through the good times and bad, who've fought hard to do well here," Liz tells New Times. "People on the island take care of other people on the island. Why delegate that out [to the county], to someone who doesn't live here? They don't know what the issues are."
click to enlarge A screenshot of the draft for a would-be proposed bill that seeks to "abolish" the City of Key West. - SCREENSHOT OF DRAFT LANGUAGE
A screenshot of the draft for a would-be proposed bill that seeks to "abolish" the City of Key West.
Screenshot of draft language
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Michael Majchrowicz is a staff writer at Miami New Times. He studied journalism at Indiana University and has reported for PolitiFact, The New York Times, Washington Post, the Post and Courier, and Tampa Bay Times.