With the support of County Commissioner Joe Barbetta, City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo announced Wednesday he will run for Barbetta’s county seat in 2014.
Caragiulo signaled his intent to champion many of the same causes Barbetta has backed; Barbetta will reach his term limit in November 2014. In explaining his decision to run for the county seat, Caragiulo said the county’s approach to development is more in line with his — and Barbetta’s — desire to draw investors into the county.
“With the county, I think there’s definitely a much better attitude of welcoming investment, a more proactive sort of philosophy when it comes to that,” Caragiulo said.
Caragiulo said he wanted to emphasize that welcoming investment is not something that can be taken for granted, and that he hoped to continue Barbetta’s efforts in that regard.
“My philosophy is to ensure the sustainability of the community,” Caragiulo said. “One way to do that is to invite investment, welcome economic development and to look for opportunities that way.”
Barbetta said he first approached Caragiulo about running for his seat a little more than a year ago. At the time, Caragiulo — still early in his first term as city commissioner — wasn’t particularly receptive to the idea.
“He was a little bit reluctant at the time because I think he felt he could make some more headway at the city,” Barbetta said. “The city needed help, so he’d stay in there as long as he could.”
Other candidates were considered: Barbetta didn’t think Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters would work well with the commission; former City Commissioner Danny Bilyeu, currently a field representative for Rep. Vern Buchanan, couldn’t make the commitment.
By the final time Barbetta and Caraguilo discussed the open seat — about 10 days ago — Caragiulo had become more acutely aware of a philosophical division he had with the other city commissioners.
“(With the City Commission) there’s no sense of urgency with how to open up to investment, how to get more players in the game,” Caragiulo said. “That’s going to be very difficult to operate if you don’t have that philosophy.”
Caragiulo said he realized how far apart he and the other commissioners were during the week of July 15. That week, the commission held a series of budget workshops and approved the Laurel Park Overlay District, which gave residents more oversight to developments adjacent to their neighborhood.
This, Caragiulo said, illustrated his discord with the city — commissioners didn’t prioritize recruiting investors in budget talks, and they threw up more roadblocks to development in the Laurel Park decision.
“I am a city person,” he said. “I am an absolute, committed, dyed-in-the-wool urbanist, and I think the county is much better at recognizing the importance of the city’s infrastructure and what the city provides.”
In response to potential criticisms of his advocacy in favor of the development community, Caragiulo said he’s not hiding where he stands on how the county should handle investment. He also said that he’s pragmatic enough to work with others who don’t share the same perspective.
“I’ve been upfront about how I feel about things and what I plan to do about them,” he said. “I’m also pretty good at compromise and looking for opportunities for compromise.”
Caragiulo said he’s proud of his time on the City Commission, citing his hard work ethic and his willingness to make his voice heard on controversial issues such as the downtown noise ordinance and the strong-mayor proposal. Above all, he said, his advocacy for business has been his most important contribution.
“Singularly, my bringing a sort of small- business perspective to that table, I think it’s been a positive thing,” Caragiulo said. “It might not have affected the outcomes I’ve wanted, but representation of small businesses is important.”
He also said his time at the city would prove to be valuable as a county commissioner, because he sees collaboration increasing between municipalities and the county. Although he doesn’t see consolidation as likely, he says it will be important for the county to work with financially struggling cities due to its ability to better generate revenue — and because it’s in the county’s best interest.
“Great cities make great counties,” Caragiulo said. “There’s a lot of empirical basis to show that’s the case.”
Barbetta said he supports Caragiulo because of his hardworking, unflinching nature — qualities he feels they share.
“Hopefully I’ll look back on my two terms and see that’s what I’ve done,” Barbetta said. “(That I was) not afraid to tackle an issue, maybe a little too outspoken at times, but all based on, ‘How do we stay on the cutting edge and make this a better county?’”
Neither is giving up on his current job — both Barbetta and Caragiulo expressed their intent to work as hard as they can as they begin to approach a new stage of their political careers.
“I’ve got a year-and-a-half left no matter what,” Caragiulo said. “I am by no means going to go into cool-down mode, if that’s anyone’s concern. I’ll be pushing big things (throughout the rest of my term) — there’s still a lot of work and a lot of time left.”
And, although both are living in the present, their futures could be vastly different. Barbetta, 67, said he has no intent on running for any other elected office when his commission term is up, though he said he’s sure he’ll stay involved and active in city and county affairs.
Caragiulo, 38, said he’s still got a young enough family that they don’t sit down and plan their lives. Although he didn’t say definitively whether he had any political ambitions beyond the County Commission, he said he likes to be able to do something about issues when he feels something needs to be done.
“I think my desire to serve is probably something that’s not going to go away anytime soon, but who knows how that’s going to manifest itself,” Caragiulo said.
Nearing the end of his second and final term as county commissioner, Joe Barbetta reflected on what he considers successes and some of his regrets from his time in office.
• Getting economic development to the forefront of the county’s priorities
• Attracting more investment from higher-education institutions, particularly the University of Florida graduate school of architecture satellite campus
• Increasing sports tourism in the city
• The stalling of the 2050 Plan
• The failure to recruit the Boston Red Sox to Sarasota for spring training and draw economic development from the Northeast corridor
As Paul Caragiulo sets his sights on moving from the City Commission to the County Commission, he outlined why he was proud of his work in the city and issues he considered priorities for the county.
• Confronting controversial issues, such as his support for a strong mayor and his effort to broker a compromise regarding the downtown sound ordinance
• Bringing a small-business perspective to the City Commission
• Putting a considerable amount of effort and time into his decision-making
• Working alongside municipalities and finding areas in which to synergize
• Making sure a 21st-century model was in place to monitor and foster growth
• Continuing to welcome investment that does not erode the county’s brand or residents’ quality of life