Caban, O’Keefe bring youth and experience to county commission
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
Most of this year the names Christian Caban and David O’Keefe have been talked about in a loud chatter concerning who out of a dozen candidates could take Districts 2 and 5 on the County Commission.
The dust cleared on Election Day, leaving the commission with two very young members. O’Keefe is 37 and Caban is 30. They will be sworn in on Nov. 22.
Not surprisingly a lot of what the public heard from Caban and O’Keefe aligns with the idea that they want to be on the board to represent people with seldom addressed needs.
O’Keefe and Caban also have one other thing in common that they said inspired them to run for election. Both witnessed their families struggle with financial hardship, something that they said helps them to understand the struggles of their constituents.
They also pledged to work with the senior members of the commission, using their expertise. Caban is a businessman who owns three downtown establishments and O’Keefe is a seasoned certified accountant.
Governance is something that neither man has done, though, and that would be a learning curve for them, said commission chairman Bill Proctor. He doesn’t expect their growth to be much different than it was when he was first elected to the board in 1996 at age 36.
“The spirit of governance is having patience,” Proctor said. “You have to settle in to know that the fight is not going to be overnight. My victories didn’t come like that. You have to be willing to sit there and have the patience of Job.”
Then, “they have to bring some energy,” Proctor said. “Everybody brings something different, but it’s going to be based off the skill sets they bring, vision, guts and courage.”
O’Keefe, who beat back a challenge from Paula DeBoles-Johnson after they emerged from a primary in August as the highest vote getters, brings financial knowledge that most first-term commissioners don’t have. However, oversight and policy direction would be his focus, he said.
“Finances or not finances, I like to come at things with creative approaches,” O’Keefe said. “One thing I got from working with governments of various sizes I like to say there are the text book rules of what you can and can’t do. Sometimes you need to meet an objective to improve something for a stakeholder or the client if you are a business or for us the community.”
O’Keefe grew up in Jacksonville and came to Tallahassee in 2003 to attend FSU. He stayed after graduation with an accounting degree. He and his wife Brooke are owners of four pets.
The jobs he’s held include being an external auditor with the firm Carr, Riggs and Ingram. He also worked as an auditor with the city of Tallahassee government and Citizen Insurance.
Most recently, he was chief financial officer for WFSU public media until he decided earlier this year to run for the commission seat vacated by Kristin Dozier to run for mayor.
There is no denying that O’Keefe’s experience as a CPA will serve him well, Proctor said.
“The stuff that has taken me years to learn just by repetition, he can come in on day one and know immediately,” Proctor said. “That’s huge. That’s just awesome.”
O’Keefe, who relied on grassroots support, was framed during his campaign as a progressive. But he said he isn’t using his commission seat to push any group’s agenda.
“I am an individual person with a unique professional and personal background that comes to my own decision on what is best for the county, what’s best for the citizens, what’s best for the public,” he said. “I have no intention of upstaging anyone. I know I’m one of seven votes on the commission that shares governance with the city commission.
“Anything I come up with; proposal, programs, or policy I have to convince the majority of our commission that it’s a good idea. I intend to do that using teamwork, compromise. I really believe, especially on the county commission, everyone that’s there wants to do good for the community.”
Caban is a Miami native who grew up in Ocala before coming to Tallahassee in 2011. He attended Tallahassee Community College and transferred to FSU. His concentration at FSU was chemistry, but having to work his way through college prompted him to take entrepreneurship classes his senior year.
While attending FSU, Caban worked as a security guard. Later being a floor manager at Hotel Duval convinced him that hospitality is his wheelhouse. Today he is a managing partner at Governor’s Inn hotel and owner of Clydes and Costello’s.
All the time he resided in the 32304 zip code, where high poverty is documented. What he saw convinced him to run for office.
“I know what it’s like to push through that struggle,” he said. “I want to be a voice for those people. I want to help create more opportunity for those people. Those are my people. Those are our people. I know what it’s like. I live currently in the 32304 zip code so I understand the issues.
“This community really has molded me into the person that I am today. I’ve seen the issues. I’ve lived the issues and I just want to give back to the community to help folks get to the other side.”
As District 2 representative, Caban will fill a vacancy that was created when Commissioner Jimbo Jackson died from complications of long COVID. He defeated Hannah Crow to become the youngest commissioner on the board.
On election night, he appeared eager to begin work on the commission.
“We have a great county commission,” Caban said. “I’m looking forward to serving everybody that sits on that commission, but I believe I bring a youthful, energetic (and) passionate business perspective.”
And, even at age 30, he doesn’t fear being intimidated by his seniors on the board. He figures they have plenty he could learn from.
“I’m not new to that situation of being the youngest person in a meeting,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with and also learning from some of the other commissioners who have experience.”