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Val Zudans chosen to lead Vero into next century as mayor

Photo: Newly elected mayor Val Zudans

Those who expected the Vero Beach City Council to go with a sentimental choice for mayor on Monday – choosing Tony Young to lead the city 100 years after his grandfather became Vero’s first mayor – were a bit shell-shocked when Val Zudans was overwhelmingly elected mayor for the next eight months.

Harry Howle nominated Zudans, saying he’d given the matter a great deal of consideration. Laura Moss nominated new council member Robbie Brackett, but Brackett politely declined, citing his need to learn how to be a councilman first.

Prompted by shouts from the public in the gallery, “Tony, nominate yourself,” Young reluctantly and uncharacteristically finally nominated himself. But when it came down to a decision, Zudans got four of the five votes, giving him the mayor’s middle seat and the gavel.

Laura Moss thought she should be awarded the ceremonial vice mayor title because of her public involvement and appearances at public and social events in the city, but Young was then unanimously chosen as vice mayor and will lead council meetings in the event Zudans is absent.

Zudans thanked his wife Tracey for her support, and said he would do his best to honor the trust his colleagues had placed in him as mayor.

Vero’s mayoral seat is largely ceremonial, but there is some power to control the tone and flow of City Council meetings.

The choice of mayor also matters because, typically, the mayoral pick signals the general direction the council intends to take. Young would have been a vote to honor Vero’s rich history and heritage. Zudans represents more of a question mark, as he’s thrown a lot of ideas against the proverbial wall to see which ones stick during his time on the council.

Since being elected in November 2017, Zudans has shaken up the Vero establishment – at times appearing politically tone deaf and blind to the fact that Vero harbors a significant number of sacred cows.

His election as mayor raises the question of whether the position will temper his approach somewhat. Will he be less likely to take on relatively radioactive issues without regard for the political climate or the fallout now that he leads the council?

Howle said after Monday’s meeting that he and his wife Heather are both ecstatic over him not being mayor anymore. He immediately cleaned out his belongings and vacated the mayor’s office, and said he looks forward to the next council election eight months from now after which he’ll be able to fully reclaim his life as a private citizen.

Selection of the mayor and vice mayor on Monday took place against the lingering backdrop of some bad blood among council members over a deal to sell the old Dodgertown golf course property to Indian River County at a loss.

Young voted against selling to the county, and then was seen as using his position as the swing vote to enter into 11th-hour negotiations with the county. Zudans and Moss openly lashed out at Young, saying he had undermined the city’s negotiating power, and had circumvented months of efforts by City Manager Jim O’Connor, city staff and Howle to get more money for the city.

Getting passed over for mayor on Monday could be viewed as a slap on the wrist by Young’s colleagues.

Howle said nominating Zudans for mayor was more of a business decision than a political one.

“I was thinking that we need to keep these meetings going as quickly and as efficiently as possible and I think Val is the best person to facilitate that need,” Howle said. “We have to facilitate meetings that have to do with the administrative actions of government. “

In other words, Howle chose Zudans as the best person to get things done. What Zudans prioritizes, and how he reacts to and manages dissent from the public and discord on the council, will be the test of his mettle.

Zudans is not known to be naturally diplomatic. Up to now, he’s routinely lobbed political grenades from the wings, leaving Howle to get everybody settled back down and working together again.

Howle said he likes Young personally and thinks Young will do a tremendous job as vice mayor while simultaneously heading up running the city’s centennial. “Tony’s been a man of the people and he’s very invested in protecting the interests of the city.”

Since last Tuesday’s special election means abbreviated eight-month terms until the next organizational meeting in November, where a mayor and vice mayor again will be chosen, Howle pointed out that there’s still time for Young to be picked as mayor during the centennial calendar year to honor the Young family’s deep commitment to Vero Beach and its heritage.