The western communities will elect a new representative in Tallahassee this fall, and four Democrats are vying in the Aug. 23 primary for their party’s nomination for the newly drawn District 93 seat in the Florida House of Representatives.
The incumbent would have been State Rep. Matt Willhite, who represents the current District 86, but his decision to run for the Palm Beach County Commission left the District 93 seat open. Seeking the Democratic nod are Wellington community activist Shelly Albright, social worker Seth Densen, former Willhite legislative aide Tom Valeo and Port of Palm Beach Commissioner Katherine Waldron. The primary winner will face Republican candidate Dr. Saulis Banionis, who does not have a primary election.
Still centered around Wellington, Willhite’s old district has been redrawn slightly to the south, now including all of Wellington, Greenacres and parts of suburban Lake Worth.
Shelly Albright — A resident of Wellington for 19 years, Albright is known locally for her work with a number of local organizations, including her church.
“I am the director of children and youth ministry at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church. I raised my four children in Wellington. I am a longtime community advocate and volunteer,” she said. “I sit on the Wellington Education Committee as vice chair. I chaired interfaith and worked closely with the Village of Wellington’s Community Service Department.”
She also sits on the Neil S. Hirsch Family Boys & Girls Club Advisory Board and serves as recording secretary, and she is a past president of the Junior League of the Palm Beaches.
“Interfaith is probably my biggest accomplishment, being able to work in the community and serve the people in the community,” Albright said. “I work with families on a daily basis in my current position. Because of that, I know the needs of the residents.”
She believes that living and working in this community has given her the opportunity to know and understand the needs of residents.
“Just seeing what the needs are on the community level gives me insight that the other candidates may not have,” Albright said. “I have the life experiences to back it up. I’m a parent, I have been a married woman, I am a single woman. I own a home. I have been through things with people in this community.”
Education is a key issue for her.
“There is a real need for raising experienced teachers’ salaries. We currently rank number 48 in the United States in salaries. We have a teacher shortage, which leads to our students not getting their needs met and our teachers being overworked,” she said. “A personal issue for me is mental health. I have experienced it with my children, and I know how devastating it can be for a family. I see that issue rising in children, adults and seniors, particularly right now.”
Albright also plans to be a strong supporter of home rule in Tallahassee. “I believe that municipalities need to be instrumental in making decisions about things occurring in their back yard,” she said. “I am also concerned about affordable housing and our healthcare costs, which are definitely hurting the people in our communities.”
Yet Albright realizes the difficulties of getting things accomplished in the legislature.
“I hope to move the ball as far down the field as possible,” she said. “Being a Democrat, that will be difficult, but I am very good at collaborating and building consensus. My goal is to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in our area. We can move the ball down the road as far as education, mental health issues and housing.”
Albright noted that she has the endorsement of many leaders in the western communities, including most of the current Wellington Village Council.
“I think it is important that the person representing us knows the residents of the western communities and lives in the western communities and has a life experience to truly know the issues to be able to impact change,” she said. “The reason people should vote for me is because I love the people in this community, and I have built a life here. No one in this race knows this community better than I do. I have the skillset to impact change.”
To learn more about Albright, visit www.shellyalbright.com.
Seth Densen — Originally from New York, Densen has lived in South Florida for 11 years.
“I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in family studies and human development. My master’s degree is from Adelphi University in social work,” said Densen, who works as a social worker at Jupiter Medical Center.
A Wellington resident, Densen noted that he was born premature and wasn’t expected to survive.
“I was named Seth because the nurse told my mother that Seth, biblically speaking, was a strong fighter who was determined,” he said. “When I survived, it was clear that I was determined to fight. That determination has followed me throughout my life… I am determined to fight not only for what I believe in, but for what the State of Florida needs.”
His key issues are education funding, child welfare and mental health.
“We are the greatest nation in the world, yet we cannot provide basic school supplies in the classroom for our children,” he said. “Our educators, in many respects, are on the front lines when we look at the great lengths they went to make sure our children get educated, especially during the pandemic, and yet we pay them a fraction of what educators get in other states.”
Densen noted that Florida ranks third in the nation for child trafficking, and Palm Beach County ranks third in the state.
“We need to do more to combat this epidemic in child trafficking and other forms of child abuse,” he said. “We need better prevention programs and more education. And we need to increase the starting salary for those who investigate child abuse and elder abuse… These are individuals tasked with ensuring the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable populations. I believe that we need to be able to provide these first responders with a livable wage.”
Regarding mental health, he would support a bill to expand Florida’s Baker Act.
“If elected, I would propose a bill that expands the Baker Act, where instead of an individual staying in a facility up to three days before a court order, I would make that minimum stay seven days,” he said. “How much can you truly accomplish in a 72-hour period? All too often we see individuals who leave these facilities and there is no follow-up care.”
Densen would also like to see laws regarding drowning prevention and firearm safety. “We live in Florida. Water is everywhere. There should be more programs funded through state dollars that will help children learn how to swim,” he said. “Of course, I support red flag laws and the age being moved to 21 for all firearms. I do not believe that an individual should be allowed to purchase a semi-automatic weapon. However, I do recognize the importance of the Second Amendment.”
Densen also supports a woman’s right to choose and would fight against additional abortion restrictions in Florida.
“We don’t need to create more problems; we need to create more solutions,” he said. “If we wait for our leaders to have honor and take action, we will be waiting too long. We have become so divided, that I worry that we forget what it is like to be united.”
Densen hopes to be a unifier in Tallahassee.
“While I am running as a Democrat for District 93, I am running for all Floridians,” he said. “If you have a concern, I want you to be able to call me. You shouldn’t have to go through all these hoops to get things done. This is about being a voice for the people.”
Densen said that he has spent his entire career helping people and would continue to do so if elected.
“Voters should vote for me because not only am I genuine, but I know what it is like to struggle,” he said. “I can speak to issues important to people in Florida. I rent a house because I can’t afford to buy a house because our market is in shambles. I know what it’s like to work two or three jobs and work paycheck to paycheck. I believe that voters should vote for me, because, quite frankly, I genuinely care.”
To learn more about Densen, visit www.votedensen.com.
Tom Valeo — A resident of Wellington since he was three years old, Valeo originally wanted to be a musician. That changed during his studies at Florida Atlantic University.
“I became the first member of my family to graduate from college when I graduated from FAU,” he said. “I wound up studying politics, government and sociology. When I left college, I got a job with State Rep. Lori Berman, now Sen. Berman, and I worked with her until I got a job with Rep. Willhite and spent the last six years working in the legislature. It was a really great experience. There are not a lot of aides who get to help the residents in the area you grew up in.”
Valeo remains a resident of Wellington and recently became engaged to his fiancé Sarah, which he describes as “happiest honor of my life.”
He is proud of this work with Willhite in the legislature.
“I built great relationships up in Tallahassee, and I loved the work,” he said. “Once the redistricting was finished up, I saw that it was going to be an open seat, and Wellington was in the district. So, I decided that this community gave me my voice, and now I would like to use it fight on their behalf.”
Valeo noted that he has worked on 23 pieces of legislation that have been signed into law.
“I have also worked on a litany of appropriation project requests,” he said. “I have already been part of the team that has brought home millions of dollars to the county. That is a great feeling, when you feel that you are making your hometown a better place.”
Valeo said that his unique experience makes him the best candidate in the race.
“When term limits are in place, it is important to have someone who can go up and from day one, start doing the job,” he said. “Aside from that, I grew up here. This is my everything. This is the only place I know. I only have this community’s best interests in mind.”
Speaking with registered Democrats, Valeo said their two biggest issues are reproductive rights, protecting a women’s right to choose, and passing common-sense gun laws.
“I also recognize the everyday issues that folks are dealing with. The rents are too damn high, and there needs to be some form of rent control,” he said. “We also need to work with our local partners, county and municipal, to find affordable housing solutions. The legislature recently had a special session on insurance issues, and they did absolutely zero to help ordinary Floridians.”
He also wants to see better funding for public education and a focus on “smart growth.”
“There are a lot of people who live out here, and we are continuing to build communities,” he said. “We need to build partnerships to make sure we have smart development and help continue to ease the congestion of traffic.”
Being a Democrat in Tallahassee means that getting bills passed is a challenge. “I recognize that as a freshman Democrat, the prospect of me getting a lot of bills passed is an uphill battle, but I think that I’m uniquely situated to bring the stories of members of our community dealing with all the issues we have talked about,” he said. “If there was one issue that I would focus in on, it would be on the affordable housing crisis.”
Valeo wants to see the powerbrokers in Tallahassee stop focusing on “the red meat politics that accomplishes nothing and is only meant to rile a base of support.”
He added that his experience in Tallahassee makes him uniquely suited for the job.
“Don’t just vote for me. Treat me like a car. Kick the tires. Voters should know what they are getting,” he said. “I have experience working in Tallahassee over the past six years that no one in this race has. I have the endorsement of already elected officials working in Tallahassee because they understand the work effort and integrity that I will bring there.”
To learn more about Valeo, visit www.tomvaleoforflorida.com.
Katherine Waldron — Waldron is the only current elected official seeking the seat. She has served on the Port of Palm Beach Commission since 2017.
“I come from the Washington, D.C., area, where I was born and raised. I attended the University of Virginia and more recently got my MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University,” said Waldron, who has three adult children. “I moved down here about 18 years ago, and coming from D.C., where politics is a part of life, I became friends with a many elected officials. When I came down here, I started a downtown political action committee, and I co-founded Palm Beach County Cares to help hurricane victims in the Caribbean.”
As an executive with Sprint and Nortel, Waldron looked for a way to put her business background to use in public service. “U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, who has always been a good friend to me, suggested I run for the port commission because it is a big economic driver for our community, and the port district includes Wellington,” she said.
She was spurred to action by a controversial port vote in favor of a deep dredge.
“There is maintenance dredging that is always needed, but they voted for a deep dredge to massively deepen it, which would have been an environmental disaster,” Waldon recalled. “When I got on the commission, I was able to flip that vote, so they voted against it. I’m a big believer that business can thrive, and you can still protect the environment. They are not mutually exclusive.”
While she considers overturning deep dredge her top achievement at the port, she is also very proud of her work helping hurricane victims.
“The Palm Beach County Cares initiative was a non-partisan effort, and the community, from elected officials, community leaders and volunteers came out after Hurricane Maria, and we really made a difference sending supplies to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” she said. “It was reactivated after the hurricane in the Bahamas and the earthquake in Haiti.”
Waldron does not currently live in District 93 as it is now drawn.
“Before the redistricting happened, I was in Matt Willhite’s District 86. So, as a lot of people who are elected by district, they found they no longer actually lived in the district they were running in,” she said. “I am working with a Realtor to move into the district, however, I have been representing Wellington as a port commissioner for the past six years.”
Waldron said that she will be a hard worker on behalf of local residents.
“I am very passionate about helping and promoting my community, which is what I have always done,” she said. “I am very focused on trying to improve and maintain our quality of life.”
Key issues for her are education, security and women’s rights.
“I want to improve our schools and protect our environment,” Waldron said. “A lot of the effort from the Democrats in Tallahassee will be to trying to mitigate and undo some of these draconian measures that the government has implemented. To do that, you need someone who is aggressive, a fighter and can build coalitions to get that done.”
Waldron believes that she can support the area despite the challenges of being a Democrat in Tallahassee.
“In a perfect world, I would undo almost everything Gov. DeSantis has done, but in reality, I will work on bills to help our community,” she said. “As a port commissioner, I know the impact of having a strong infrastructure, and there are a lot of infrastructure dollars flowing into this state.”
Waldron said that she has been knocking on many doors and said that she has found local Democrats to be very engaged in the upcoming election.
“I will be a fighter up in Tallahassee,” she said. “I will be able to push back on what DeSantis is doing, and I will work tirelessly for my community and this district.”
To learn more about Waldron, visit www.votekw.com.