NEW: Wellington election sees big drop in contributions from 2016 races

With two races on the ballot in Wellington on March 13 — seat 2 held by Councilwoman Tanya Siskind and seat 3 held by Vice Mayor John McGovern — candidates are seeing a return to village politics seemingly without the million-dollar influence of political-action committees and landowners that drove the 2016 election.

Siskind, 49, faces political newcomer 61-year-old Frank Ferrano, an engineer who worked in construction and previously led Wellington’s Utilities Department before partially retiring and buying two NAPA Auto and Truck Parts stores in Palm Beach County. Attorney McGovern, 43, faces frequent Wellington critic Bart Novack, 61, known for his legal tangles with the village over ethics complaints, and with his homeowners association at The Preserve at Binks Forest.

By 2016 standards, political contributions for this year’s race are positively modest. At the time, a pair of warring factions waged a bitter battle over a charter amendment that would restrict development in Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve, throwing money into attack ads and mailers.

About $2.7 million was spent on the election two years ago, with the majority of contributions to PACs coming from two men who have become key, polarizing figures in Wellington: Jeremy Jacobs and Mark Bellissimo.

How much did they collect?

In a major turn from 2016, Siskind and McGovern have collected contributions from both Bellissimo and Jacobs, and their family members and assorted companies.

According to campaign finance reports, as of Feb. 16 Siskind collected $25,389 in contributions, including $3,000 from Jacobs through three related companies: DNC Travel Hospitality, Solar Sportsystems Inc. and Delaware North Cos. Inc. Two of Jacobs’ children, Charles Jacobs and Katie Robinson, each contributed $500 to Siskind in August.

Bellissimo’s wife, Katherine, gave Siskind’s campaign the maximum contribution of $1,000 on Aug 3.

McGovern, as of Feb. 16, had collected $50,926, according to campaign reports. That includes $3,000 from Jacobs through the same three companies that donated to Siskind, plus another $1,000 each from the Jacobs-owned Daytona Beach Kennel Club and DNC P&R at Kennedy Space Center. He also collected $1,000 each from Jacob’s sons Lou and Charles. Bellissimo has donated $1,000 to McGovern’s campaign.

According to campaign reports, Ferrano as of Feb. 16 raised $22,300, with a $20,000 loan from himself, a $300 contribution from himself and $1,000 each from two companies: Precision Auto and Truck Arts Inc., for which he is the president; and Precision Property Investment Group LLC, for which he is a registered agent.

Novack as of Feb. 16 has collected $350 in contributions from himself, records show. 

Key issue: Equestrian Preserve

Each candidate has voiced support for what seems to be the primary issue driving this election: the Equestrian Preserve.

At a Wednesday candidates forum hosted by the Wellington Chamber of Commerce at the Bellissimo-owned International Polo Club, McGovern, Siskind and Ferrano stood behind the controversial charter amendment approved by voters in 2016 that limits development within the preserve.

Asked what they would do to support the equestrian community in Wellington, all three candidates — Novack did not attend the forum — had similar responses.

The equestrian community in Wellington is “what sets us apart and makes us unique,” Siskind said. “We’re growing with that and we’re finding solutions with that.”

Ferrano said he supports “continuing to make Wellington a world-class equestrian designation.” He said as a council member, “it’s very important to follow the rules … and make sure those that come in to seek help are given help.”

McGovern said while he supports the equestrian community, he feels growth in the preserve is not a black-or-white issue. “I do not believe that there are only two camps,” he said. “I do not believe that you are either a Bellissimo person or a Jacobs person.”

Wellington’s equestrian industry is “an engine,” he said. “It can be balanced between that and supporting the overall success of the Equestrian Preserve,” he added.

While Novack did not attend the forum, he told a Palm Beach Post reporter he supports the preserve. “I want them (equestrians) to succeed here,” he said.

He opposes large commercial development within the Equestrian Preserve, he said, because it could affect quality of life. “You’ll get traffic and all the issues that come along with it,” he said.

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