Pete Theisen has collected about $398 in campaign finances as of the latest reporting period — a fraction of what the five other candidates have raised, with the next candidate collecting $4,807 and the top candidate bringing in $34,618.
Eight people attended his most recent “Pizza for Pete” campaign fundraiser a few weeks ago at Ringling Pizza, a few blocks from his Alta Vista home. The events are always free.
“You can just come and eat pizza,” said Theisen, 68, a former auto-body shop owner from Detroit who moved in 1981 to Sarasota. He only put about 30 campaign signs in yards, but he has a few more in the backseat of his car ready to go.
Theisen is OK with this low-key approach to this third bid for the City Commission.
“Do I serve a purpose on the campaign?” Theisen asked during an interview with the Sarasota Observer Monday, Feb. 18, at the pizza restaurant. “I think I do. I am the one who is different.”
Theisen can be spotted around his neighborhood and at city meetings wearing his trademark black suspenders and thick-rimmed glasses and, recently, the yellow jacket-lapel badge that reads, “Hi, I’m Pete. Please Vote for Me.”
Theisen said it seems the body of other candidates seeking the two at-large seats is split, with four candidates lining up on the same side on the big issues, such as development and the economy, and with neighborhood advocate Susan Chapman taking a different stand on those issues.
Some of Theisen’s supporters have suggested that at forums he should go on the offense against other candidates, such as challenger Richard Dorfman.
“I don’t want to use my two minutes to talk about Dorfman,” Theisen said. “I want to talk about what I want to do.”
Theisen’s two biggest issues are budgetary.
He thinks the city needs to carry through with its promises by funding pensions for city employees.
“The city has money for all of these new toys, but they don’t have money for their employee pensions,” Theisen said. He named buying parking meters that were later removed from Main Street as one example of a recent poor budgetary choice.
He said the city could trim the budget by taking steps, such as changing the way the city operates its computers by switching from Microsoft Windows to the Linux model of free operating system. Theisen said that change would save the city $217,000.
“We’d be awfully dumb not to” look into changing the computer system, Theisen said. Such cost-saving measures are necessary if the city is going to put a dent in its growing deficit.
“What is the core function of government? Public safety, lighting at night, water, sewer,” Theisen said. “We need to define them and come up with a priority list. Anything that is not part of the core function is below the line.”
Theisen was drawn to Sarasota after seeing its bayfront.
“I came (here) on vacation in 1979,” Theisen said. “I drove by the bayfront, the condos weren’t there yet, and I said, ‘Yeah, I want to live here.’”
When it comes to new city construction Theisen supports development — with a caveat: He wants developers to pay into necessary improvements such as road construction, expanding a nearby library or adding in sewer lines before they are allowed to break ground on a project.
“Development has to pay its own way,” Theisen said. “It can’t gridlock the roads, clog the sewers.”
Theisen opposes a proposed downtown sound district, saying that louder live music will be heard throughout downtown, as well as in the surrounding neighborhoods. Sound travels a mile, he said.
He champions the idea for better transportation. Theisen would like to see buses running on a “seven-minute headway.” Theisen said he sometimes rides the bus and has had to wait an hour for another when he missed it.
“You do that, and you will get riders,” Theisen said.
Family: sister, Virginia
Occupation: Former owner of an auto-body repair shop in Detroit; retired acupuncturist
Hobbies: Volunteers repairing pipe organs at a Lakeland theater.
Education: Bachelor’s of arts in social work, University of Detroit; Florida Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine