Brawls, biker gangs and other worries aside, money talks as the Poker Run returns

The 45th annual Phil Peterson’s Poker Run, a motorcycle-filled charity event in Key West, will rev its engines Sept. 15 to17 after a sticky political debate that covered noise, safety and the possible presence of biker gangs.

When the dust settled last week at Key West City Hall and City Manager Jim Scholl rescued the event with his recommendations, the City Commission voted 5-2 to approve the permits needed by organizer Drew Peterson, who defended the event by saying there are Christian bikers and many are veterans. Peterson owns Peterson’s Harley-Davidson in Miami-Dade County.

“We’re all law-abiding citizens,” Peterson said.

Unlike past years, there will be no street fair on Duval.

The vote came after four of the seven voting members, including Mayor Craig Cates, expressed opposition of the event due to various concerns.

The Key West Sunrise Rotary last fall dropped its sponsorship of the event and a biker brawl at the Rumor Lounge downtown left some city leaders wary of allowing the event to continue. Peterson said he couldn’t find another nonprofit to partner with but that proceeds will benefit diabetes research.

“It does bring a lot of money to this city,” City Commissioner Billy Wardlow said. “You figure 10,000 bikes.”

Bikers would come anyway, putting more work on police and fire departments without any Peterson compensation, the commissioners heard from supporters, and the event helps pay the bills of service industry employees.

Shelly McInnis, owner of Pepe’s Cafe, said, “Everyone always seems to be having a great time. It’s the money that pays my mortgage, my employees and my bills.”

Commissioners Sam Kaufman and Jimmy Weekley were the dissenting votes, but others had changed their minds after hearing Scholl.

“This is an event that attracts motorcycle gangs,” Kaufman said.