Lee Rothenberg is making up for lost time.
The 84-year-old mayor of Longboat Key has been criticized by some in the past few months after he made the decision to run for another term.
But the way Rothenberg sees it, he owes it to himself — and the residents — to run.
“I always had an interest in civic affairs, but I couldn’t participate when I was younger because I was always away on business,” Rothenberg says. “So when I came down here, I made it my priority to give back to my community.”
The first thing he did once he and his wife, Frances, settled into their Country Club Shores home was attend Town Commission meetings.
Before he knew it, Rothenberg was making comments at the podium about plans for a town tennis center and was appointed to a committee that helped form what is now the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center.
That two-year appointment turned into a 10-year planning board stint, a charter-review committee appointment, three terms as a commissioner and many years of service to the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Asked what’s left to give, Rothenberg laughs. “My daughter thinks I’m crazy for wanting to run again,” Rothenberg says. “But it’s my civic duty, and I love my community.”
Rothenberg has overseen the town’s last beach renourishment, watched Town Hall and the new police-and-fire stations be built and witnessed the growth of the tennis center.
But he wants to be a part of more.
“I want to be a part of The Longboat Key Club’s plans,” Rothenberg says.
A Cornell University graduate with a mechanical engineering degree that he received in between two years of service to the Navy during World War II, Rothenberg spent 30 years in New York working his way up the ladder of a machinery-manufacturing company.
In 1979, he moved to Chicago to take a job with a then-bankrupt company called International Honeycomb Corp. Within a couple of months, Rothenberg was named president, general manager and chief executive officer of the company, leading the paper-packaging company out of bankruptcy by improving company efficiencies, developing better equipment and making it the most successful honeycomb company in the world.
Rothenberg retired in 1983, and after driving the state with his wife looking for a place to live, they settled on Longboat Key. They thought it was the perfect combination — beaches, scenery, community and housing.
But the more than 40-hour work weeks of volunteer service as mayor don’t leave him much time these days to enjoy his retirement paradise.
Rothenberg doesn’t seem to mind, though.
“I want to do everything I can to preserve the Longboat way of life for everyone else,” Rothenberg says. “This town and its commissioners exist for one reason only — to serve the public.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]
Family: Wife, Frances; two daughters in New York; and two granddaughters.
Professional: President and chief executive officer of a light-manufacturing business.
Hometown: Richmond, Va.
Passion: The welfare of Longboat Key and maintaining its lifestyle; and tennis (plays three to four times a week)
Interesting fact: Rothenberg and his wife like to take exotic foreign trips. Past trips include visits to the Persian Gulf, Tahiti and China.
Q&A with Lee Rothenberg
How should the town handle a pension shortfall of more than $26 million?
We have to find ways to pay down the unfunded liability. We also have to make every effort to save money that can be used to pay down the unfunded liability. You have to be careful that in doing this, you do not damage the situation of all present employees.
Should the town be spending $25,000 for a consultant to combat the city of Sarasota’s roundabout plan?
The money has been spent already, and there is no more money to be spent on that subject. It’s important that Longboat Key and all the barrier islands fight against roundabouts, especially at Gulfstream and U.S. 41.
How should the town move forward with its north-end erosion problems?
We are doing the right things by placing temporary sand there. We will participate in a new study of Longboat Pass that will help. Sand is also coming available from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But each of these things takes at least a minimum of a year to come to fruition. I’m also in favor of the breakwaters.
What are your thoughts on The Longboat Key Club’s Islandside renovation and expansion project?
I have no thoughts. I can’t say anything until I review the project. My mind is open regarding the project and I will make a decision based on the facts that are presented to me.
Lee Rothenberg is making up for lost time.