Incumbent Commissioner Terry Gans defeated challenger Irwin Pastor March 12 by a narrow 27-vote margin to keep his seat on the Longboat Key Town Commission.
It was the closest vote in recent memory.
The win was a landslide, however, compared to the March 1985 race. That’s when James Edmundson, a former commissioner and vice mayor, defeated incumbent commissioner Kit Fernald by just nine votes.
Development and density were the hot issues that year, with the election coming just one year after the commission passed the 1984 Comprehensive Plan, which prohibited any density increase without a public vote and increased setbacks, making approximately 60% of the Key non-conforming with regulations.
Fernald, who was on the commission when it adopted the changes, was an ardent supporter of the new Comp Plan. She told the Longboat Observer, “My thrust in office is to stand between the developer and the voter” and that harmony shouldn’t come at the expense of lifestyle safety and welfare.
Edmundson, however, ran on a platform of moderation in dealing with developers and supported studying the zoning before making further changes. He also had concerns about the nature of town politics.
He told the Longboat Observer the commission treated people rudely when it expressed its opinions and frequently found Sunshine Law loopholes to conduct meetings out of the public eye.
The first count showed Edmundson winning with 1,489 votes compared to Fernald’s 1,484 votes, for a five-vote victory.
The other two races that year were also close.
Bob Hulderman won by a 49-vote margin with 1,517 votes, compared to opponent Walter Small’s 1,468 votes.
Bob Ross won by the largest margin that year with 1,547 votes, beating Mayor Harry Kirst by 1,412 votes.
The next day at the commission’s statutory meeting, commissioners chose Edmundson as mayor.
Ross, however, protested the results of the election and asked the Longboat Key Canvassing Board to review all over- and under-votes with a hand count and conduct a visual inspection of the ballots to determine any irregularities.
Finally, after a week of debate, four special commission meetings and a manual recount, all parties accepted the results.
The results, as tallied by Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Joanne Koester and her staffer, Melissa McDowell, who hand-counted the votes while the commission and the public watched:
Edmundson, 1,492; Fernald, 1,483.