A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Who do I least favor on May 14th? The answer may surprise you.

When I stepped off a National Airlines flight from Newark in 1970, I was a teenager who had never been to Sarasota before. And for roughly three decades afterward I had a fair chance of being the youngest person in the room at any number of local meetings.

Those days have passed. I find I’ve lived more than two-thirds of my life here and I’m trying to understand the tradeoffs involved in delaying collecting Social Security, hoping some upcoming issue of the AARP magazine will lay it all out for me.

Along the way I’ve learned a lot about myself -- that I am a paradoxical blend of New College visionary idealism and New Jersey pragmatic realism.  That confuses some people because they expect me to predictably be one or the other.

Back in January I posted a blog entry that over 250 people have read (or at least looked at.) Those aren’t big numbers compared to Jenna Marbles or even the Sarasota CLUCK blog postings (the annotated version of the City’s chicken ordinance has been viewed over 2,500 times).

The opening sentence of that entry was: Susan Chapman is talented, effective, and dedicated community leader. I then went on to explain why I wasn’t going to vote for her in the early City Commission contest that featured six contenders.  That was the idealist blogging. Now you’re going to hear from the pragmatist.

Susan Chapman was the top vote-getter in the primary and that may have led some to assume the race for the second available seat was between Suzanne Atwell and Richard Dorfman. But shortly after that first vote, two of the three candidates that didn’t make the cut (one Democrat and one Republican) recommended that people vote for Suzanne Atwell and Richard Dorfman and that unexpected, blended endorsement made headlines.

That surprising endorsement was followed recently by the announcement that a dozen former mayors are supporting Susan Chapman. This unprecedented affirmation has been dismissed by some,  (I believe Mr. Dorfman suggested the former Mayors were only interested in the status quo, which, when you consider who some of the former mayors are, is actually quite offensive) but this collective endorsement really is fairly remarkable, especially when you consider that the former mayors have almost nothing to gain by endorsing, except I suppose, better government.

Since then the twelve have been joined by a thirteenth and fourteenth: Rita Roehr and Fred Soto. Head down to City Hall and check out the glass wall case with the photographs of all the city’s mayors. You’ll see more than one quarter of all our City’s mayors THAT HAVE EVER LIVED are endorsing Chapman. [And I was surprised to learn that I am just one mayor short of having dealt with half of all Sarasota’s mayors.]

Why is this cornucopia of mayoral endorsements meaningful? Two reasons. First because these former mayors are some of the only people who completely comprehend what skills are needed to be a commissioner. They remember colleagues who got the votes but who couldn’t master the job.

Secondly, what these former mayors are bringing to the party is not just their reputations, but also their expertise. I know these people and they are not likely to endorse and forget. Their endorsement represents a commitment not simply to Susan Chapman’s campaign, but to her service as well. This is a big and balanced group: men and women, Republican and Democrat, black and white, working and retired. This is a significant brain trust and a great resource that represents the diversity of Sarasota.

Now in an election such as this, where only two out of three will prevail, it might be more straightforward, if not kinder, to simply ask people which of the three they least want serving.

And for me that turns out to be Richard Dorfman, who happens to be exactly one month younger than I am. I admire his chutzpah, cojones, or moxie to run for office after only having lived here for a few years. Mind you, I’m not one who believes you had to swim at Lido Casino or dine at the Smack to be a legitimate candidate, but you probably ought to know whom to believe when you are told grey sand pumped on Lido Beach will somehow turn white.

Bottom line: I don’t believe someone should be running for office if they have only lived here four years. Testify at hearings, serve on advisory boards, vote, and write letters to the Editor -- fine. But I believe our City leaders need a contextualized sense of place and I simply don’t believe that can’t develop in four years (or even “nearly eight” if you count a recent Dorfman mailing).  But either way, four or nearly eight “maintaining a home”, don’t send me a glossy campaign mailing telling me you are “a longtime resident” if you weren’t here for Hurricane Charley.

If I was simply doing what comes all too naturally for most of us (adopting a position first and then reverse-engineering a rationale) I could have clutched at the fact that he is a Republican, and supported by the big money in town, but those facts are not deal killers for me. And while I admit to having a visceral reaction upon seeing among Dorfman’s backers the names of those who conspired, out of view of the media, to fund a massive backdoor campaign to defeat my candidacy for the County Commission, I vote for people, not parties, and (as a Democrat in this burg) I’ve voted for plenty of Republicans.

Honestly, I’m not immune to the appeal of some of Richard Dorfman’s expressed goals – I agree that we need greater density and more year-round residents downtown, more support for young people, and a city where life without a car is made more feasible, but these are not patentable ideas. By that I mean they don’t have to travel with a specific individual.

So, just as I judged Susan Chapman not so much on positions as behavior, I’m looking at Richard Dorfman’s behavior.

Now all candidates make slips, some worse than others. But referring to a group of Sarasota citizens as “white-haired ladies” seems especially problematic for at least two reasons. First we need commissioners working both consciously and unconsciously to bring us together and vilifying engaged citizens is not a good way to accomplish that. Put another way, Susan Chapman may have stereotyped chickens, but I’ve never heard her stereotype groups of citizens.

Second, unless one is crassly or divisively playing for some youth vote by taking a cheap shot at the elderly, dissing “white-haired ladies” in Sarasota does not reflect a very sophisticated understanding of the electorate. It is the kind of mistake someone who doesn’t really understand or appreciate Sarasota could make. In addition to the inappropriate white-haired ladies crack, Dorfman failed to challenge a radio host who spoke in crude terms about the commissioners Mr. Dorfman hopes to join. Allowing others to trash-talk your future teammates does not bode well for commission collegiality.

In my previous posting regarding this election, I didn’t deign to tell others how to vote – I simply explained how I was approaching that first election.  So now, for what it is worth, I’m reporting that on May 14th I will be voting for Susan Chapman, and if I vote for a second candidate, it will be Suzanne Atwell.