By Anne Geggis
Former Broward County state Sen. Perry Thurston, Jr. is running to be Broward County’s first elected Tax Collector, resurfacing from a fourth-place finish in the 2021 Democratic Special Primary for a congressional seat.
Thurston resigned his state Senate seat representing central Broward County in 2021 to run to replace U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died in office. Thurston was one of 11 Democrats vying for Hastings’ seat and the last of the top finishers since that November Primary to re-emerge onto the public stage.
Thurston faces two rivals running as Democrats, including one candidate, Abbey Ajayi, who says she has essentially been doing this job for the past eight years. But now, because of a change in state law, she must run for her first election to keep her job.
”I am running for Tax Collector to put my eight years of experience running the Tax Collector’s Office and (30) years as a successful banking and financial services expert to work for the people of Broward County,” Ajayi said in aprepared statement.
Her website states: “A recent change in state law requires my position to now be filled by a countywide election.”
But Thurston disagrees that what Ajayi does now is what the elected Tax Collector will be doing following the changeover that voters in 2018 approved via constitutional amendment. He pointed out — and the county organizational chart shows — that another individual, Thomas Kennedy, is the appointed director of the records, taxes and treasury division.
“Frankly, it’s like comparing apples to oranges,” Thurston said, calling Ajayi an “office manager.”
Ajayi became a certified collector via The Florida Department of Revenue in 2019. Thurston doesn’t have that credential, but lays claim to more macro experience regarding public funding issues and the relationships the new position will involve.
“That’s a good title for someone seeking a job as manager,” Thurston said of his chief rival’s credentials. “But to be over the whole Tax Collector’s Office? That’s going to require a whole lot more skill.”
Ajayi says she is the most experienced candidate in the race, however.
Thurston, a lawyer, served as the Democratic Leader during his tenure in the House and he was unanimously elected designated Senate Democratic Leader for 2022, a position he ultimately did not hold because he resigned to run for Hastings’ job.
In 2018, voters approved an amendment making county constitutional officers — Clerks of Court, Property Appraisers, Sheriffs, Supervisors of Elections and Tax Collectors — all elected positions in all 67 counties.
So far, Ajayi has more money to spend in her first bid for elected office. She has raised $37,000 for her bid, although $17,000 is a loan she made to her campaign. That compares to the $25,600 that Thurston has raised.
A third candidate, Dwight Forrest, has raised $590 and did not return a call, text or email from Florida Politics Monday. His website says he’s an accounting manager in the Broward County Tax Collector’s Office.