Vice Mayor Ken Davis Remembered
Contributed by Jim McCarthy, Keys Weekly
He served the country and community in various capacities throughout his career. He remained open and accessible to the residents of Islamorada on any issue any time, anywhere.
Ken Davis was even a “walking-talking miracle” following an aortic dissection with a 10% survival chance just a year ago. He continued forward breathing a second life — grateful to the doctors who saved him and to his wife, Charlotte, who urged him to call 911 immediately on Sept. 19, 2019.
The vice mayor of Islamorada and former agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration passed away on Sept. 12 after he suffered heart failure and a massive stroke, according to his brother, Bill. Davis was rushed to the hospital the prior week after he collapsed while working out at a gym in Tavernier.
The news of Davis’ passing came at around 3:30 p.m., as Bill’s Facebook post described him as the “bravest, coolest, most honorable man I have ever had the privilege to know.”
“You are a legend in our family and to those in the world that have known you,” Bill wrote.
A longtime resident of the Keys, Davis, 64, served in the U.S. Coast Guard before spending 22 years in the DEA. He retired in 2008 and served the last four years as the agent-in-charge of the Florida Keys DEA.
Upon his departure from the DEA, Davis was deployed as a civilian with the U.S. Army to Iraq where he eventually served as director of intelligence, leading a 30-person training team to advise Iraqi police on fighting terrorism. His vast experience working and living throughout the country and world brought a long track record of success in working with different government levels.
Wanting to serve the public again, Davis campaigned as the Republican candidate for Monroe County sheriff in 2008. While Davis lost to Democrat Bob Peryman in the election, his desire to serve his local community didn’t go away. On Jan. 24, 2018, Davis filed to run for Islamorada Village Council. He won the November 2018 general election against Eric Carlson for seat 4.
“Any decision I make, any vote I go with is what I believe is best for the village,” Davis told the Keys Weekly following his victory. “I had one former councilman say to me that one of the worst decisions was letting the crowd sway his vote.”
Sworn into office on Nov. 29, 2018, one of the political newcomer’s first wishes was a motion to send a letter from the village to the president’s desk to support clemency for Richard "Dickie" Lynn, the Islamorada resident who was charged in 1989 with conspiring with others to import and distribute marijuana and cocaine into Alabama.
In his statements to council and the public, Davis noted that Lynn’s sentencing was unjust when looking at the disparity of the sentencing. Of the 21 imprisoned for their role in the smuggling, Davis said, Lynn received life in prison “seven times over without parole.”
“We want our resident back. We will help him,” Davis said. “It would mean a great deal.”
On June 29. Lynn was granted a compassionate release by the U.S. District Court Judge William H. Steele, of the Southern District of Alabama. The case received help from local residents, nonprofits and DEA agents including Davis.
“It’s about time for him to come home,” Davis said following news of his release.
In his time on the dais, Davis fought alongside fellow council members to gain local control of state-owned property on the Fills,the small islands connecting Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys, following many years of overcrowding, trashing and chaos. With a five-year sublease with the Florida Department of Transportation, Davis said, a state blight is “becoming a village-managed area of enjoyment.”
Davis also worked with homeowners in the Port Antigua community affected by issues stemming from weekend boaters on White Marlin Beach. An ordinance was approved recently creating a 300-foot vessel exclusion/ swim zone to move boaters back.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Davis was outspoken in establishing a roadblock for a month and not a weekend as originally planned.
Davis was running for reelection in the November election for seat 4.
“I have busted my tail for the last two years, and the people of Islamorada know and see it,” Davis told the Keys Weekly last month.
Those who knew and worked alongside Davis called him passionate, a hard worker and a true leader.
“It was a pleasure working with him,” said councilman Chris Sante. “He tried to answer everyone to show he was working for everybody. He was very passionate about being on council.”
Mayor Mike Forster said Davis was a “larger-than-life kind of guy” and an American hero with his service in the Coast Guard, in Iraq and with the DEA. Forster said Davis brought skills and a sense of community back to Islamorada.
“Ken was very passionate about the issues facing Islamorada. He was a guy who sought input, who tried to find some common ground with everybody’s voices being heard. That’s what he did and that’s what I admire about him the most.”
Councilwoman Deb Gillis said he was an asset to the village and will be greatly missed.
“He brought another perspective, which when you sit on a council of five, you need a variety or perspectives,” Gillis said. “He was passionate about what he did, and he was very caring.”
Acting Village Manager Maria Bassett said the village is deeply affected by the loss of Davis.
“Every conversation with Ken included expressions of support, appreciation and encouragement by him to staff,” Bassett said. “His service in the U.S. Coast Guard and familiarity with the operations of various governmental agencies gave him a unique perspective and understanding. We knew that he knew what it’s like to be working hard in the trenches.”
Councilman Jim Mooney said Davis had the best interests of the village at heart all the time.
“He left a lifelong impression on me from the kind of man he was and the work he did to help get Dickie out to everything he did for the community,” Mooney said.
Running against Davis in the 2018 election, Carlson said he did not know much about him when he made the decision to file paperwork and run for an open council seat. Carlson said Davis was quick to reach out and explain how he had prepared for this position and what he had planned for the community.
“One thing we both agreed on was a need for clean and positive politics in Islamorada,” Carlson said. “After our first debate, I quickly realized that not only was he ready for this role, but that we shared many goals for Islamorada and a passion for those people that made it run. Being new to a public debate forum and reasonably nervous, I could count on Ken to kick my foot under the table when my time was running out as I stumbled through my first few questions. Looking around the room, I wished I was running against any other person up there.”
Two years after being his opponent, Carlson was more than happy to support a friend in Davis for his second term. Carlson added that Davis was the perfect example of the “Island Statesman,” as he was not in politics to protect a business or personal interest.
“All of Islamorada will miss him,” Carlson said. “We lost one of the good ones.”
Forster said it was his belief that Davis was the future of Islamorada as he and councilman Jim Mooney were seeking other offices, Gillis terming out and Sante not running for reelection.
“He had some leadership into the next council that is so needed,” he said. “That’s a major loss to the village.”
Not only did he enjoy serving with Davis, but Forster also said he will miss the friendship the two shared.
“I think about Charlotte and family and the healing they’re going to be facing without him,” he said. “We as a village mourn the loss. We’ll be here for them, whatever they need.”