The race for the District 3 seat of the Longboat Key Town Commission will center on the future of Longboat Key. Vice Mayor David Brenner, who holds the District 3 seat, and challenger Ray Rajewski agree on that.
But a recent mailing Rajewski’s campaign sent to just more than 1,000 registered voters on the Key suggests that they might not agree on much more.
Rajewski wrote in the mailing:
“The current commission seems intent on remaking Longboat as a major tourist destination, all under the guise of ‘progress.’”
He described the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s $400 million renovation-and-expansion project in the letter, writing that “the commission, led by my opponent, approved a development which included the largest meeting facility in the area, one with a capacity of 1,000 people or more … in a residential area no less!” He points out that the development order was recently overturned in Circuit Court.
Brenner disagrees with the statement that he “led” the commission when it approved the Key Club development order.
“I was one of seven,” he said. “George Spoll was the mayor, Bob Siekmann was the vice mayor.”
Rajewski told the Longboat Observer that Brenner was the “most vocal” commissioner to support the Key Club project.
He went on to write:
“The commission, spurred on by David Brenner, whose background is in ‘economic development’ and casino management, wants to pace the way for more expansive development, more tourists and … casinos?? Don’t rule it out, bills have been introduced to the state Legislature to legalize casinos in Florida and with pressure from the gaming industry and the right ‘clarifications’ of the zoning code it’s not as farfetched as it seems.”
Brenner told the Longboat Observer that he served on the board of the Claridge Atlantic City in the 1990s and early 2000s, eventually becoming chairman. During that time, Brenner said that the hotel had the smallest casino in Atlantic City, making it difficult to be competitive with major resort-casinos. The Claridge entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and was acquired by the larger Bally’s Atlantic City — a move that Brenner said ultimately saved approximately 2,000 jobs and 70% of investors’ capital.
But he dismissed any notion that he or the public would support casinos on the island — or that his serving on the board has any implications for the Key.
“It’s about as relevant to the Key as the man on the moon,” he said.
But Rajewski argued that the background is relevant, because Brenner has advocated increasing tourism on the island.
“What I’m saying is, don’t rule it out,” Rajewski said. “There were bills introduced, and they will come back with pressure from the gaming industry.”
Brenner said that he was surprised by the fact he received the letter in the mail — but not by its content.
“I was more surprised than anything that I was on their mailing list,” he said. “The campaign doesn’t seem to want to run on what the issues are but wants to go after my background.”
Both candidates say the race is about the future of Longboat Key, but there is one more thing they agree on: The March 20 race is important. But just how important?
Rajewski described it in his mailing as “the most important election in the past two decades for Longboat Key.” He told the Longboat Observer why:
“The future of Longboat Key hangs in the balance,” he said. “We have our town attorney suggesting that we redo the codes, the Key Club issue is in the courts, the issues at Whitney Beach are up in the air and the amount the town is liable for beaches and pensions, and now the commissioners seem to want to build a community center that we can’t afford.”
Although Brenner agreed that the race is important, he was skeptical of Rajewski’s description.
“Who is he to say that it’s the most important election in two decades?” Brenner said. “That’s pretty arrogant if you don’t mind my saying so. This is one commission seat, not all seven of them.”