Elections often can and do engender ill will and bitterness that some candidates never forget.
Politics are not like sports. Bitter athletic rivals can play each other ferociously on the field or court. But after the game, the players often can be seen hugging, shaking hands, smiling.
It’s a game. It’s not personal.
It’s different in politics. No matter what anyone says, politics get personal. Candidates and their supporters lie about their opponents. They use vicious, slanderous descriptives. They engage in sleazy deceptive practices.
We’ll never forget the slimey tactics of the Democratic Party in Jeb Bush’s first gubernatorial campaign in Florida. Just days before the election, the Democrats called thousands of seniors in Pinellas County — a tipping-point county — and convinced them Jeb Bush was going to cut their Social Security. No matter that the governor has nothing to do with Social Security, the scummy, scare tactics worked. Lawton Chiles beat Bush, thanks to the senior vote in Pinellas County.
In little Longboat Key, thank goodness, the tactics and politics don’t fall to those depths. They do get personal and sometimes nasty — unnecessarily. And though all of the candidates likely can attest to instances of ugliness and some egregious mischaracterizations of themselves, for the most part this recent Town Commission election transpired as most elections on Longboat Key — on a level we could only hope the state and national campaigns would reach.
Except, of course, for the silly sign skirmishes (see box). While they’re serious to those involved, in the end these disputes often come across as petty and humorous — an only-on-Longboat type of tussle.
The commission’s path
Campaign tactics aside, Longboat voters stated their case. They spoke. And they said: Even though they recognize the substantial merits of first-time candidate Irwin Pastor, voters want the direction of the Town Commission and town to continue moving forward as it has over the past year.
That means continue on the path that will:
• Eliminate the unfunded, town-employee pension liabilities. This should remain a top financial priority.
• Facilitate and expedite — without undue government overreach — the redevelopment of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
This is a touchy one. Longboaters are fed up with the Colony situation and what it’s doing to the Key and the Key’s reputation. And, they want the Town Commission to be tough on its deadline for the Colony to show substantial progress. At the same time, it would be a tragedy for the commission to revoke the Colony’s hotel zoning status, relegating it to becoming another Positano. Longboat needs the Colony’s 232 hotel units, but the town also has reached its limit with Colony’s disputing parties and the property’s deterioration.
• Modernize Longboat Key’s zoning codes and comprehensive plan.
We have urged this for the past decade. There is an indisputable reason Longboat Key’s commercial properties appear in their mediocre-to-declining condition. Codes are so onerous and restrictive that if most of the Key’s commercial property owners attempt a major renovation, they would never be able to charge the lease rates to recoup their investments. This is why many of them continue to decline.
And this is why the town’s codes need to be rewritten — with an eye toward the next 40 years and making it economical for capital to flow into Longboat Key.
(As an aside, those who defend the town’s current codes might point to the redevelopment of Publix as the case for not needing to rewrite the codes. But Publix is an exception. It was able to redevelop in large part because of its long-term, patient capital and its store’s strong, steady cash flow.)
Message to investors
There is a corollary to rewriting the town’s codes and comp plan. It will send a message to those with investment capital that residents and taxpayers want the Key to move forward and remain the paradise it is. Capital flows where it is welcome, and the Town Commission recognizes that it needs to extend that welcome. The alternative is more of the Whitney Beach Plaza.
Let’s stop here for a moment to counter a frequently heard, albeit inaccurate accusation: that the re-elected commissioners and their other four colleagues are hell bent on commercializing Longboat Key. that the reason they want to rewrite the codes is to open up Longboat Key to unabated commercial development.
Unequivocally, this is false.
Even though Bob White of the Island Property Owners Coalition and Ray Rajewski, a one-time Town Commission candidate, try to convince Longboaters that the current commission members are unabashedly pro-development, truth is they are no different than most Longboaters. They want the Key to remain the paradise it is — and that doesn’t mean uncontrolled development. No one here wants that.
• Continue to explore and find the most cost-effective way to maintain our beach. That almost goes without saying.
Nonetheless, the current commission recognizes that past six-year renourishments may not necessarily be the most effective route going forward. The commission should always be looking for the next best technology to maintain the key to Longboat Key — its beach.
• Resolve the cellular communications condundrum. Everybody has an opinion about this. Some say they have no problem getting cell connections. Others still stand in their driveways to talk on their cellular phones.
Either way, having first-rate communications is essential to Longboat Key’s status in the future. A town-wide Wi-Fi should be explored — as long as it doesn’t become a new town government operation.
• Maintain Longboat Key’s fiscal frugality. The Town Commission and town manager, including former Town Manager Bruce St. Denis and current Town Manager David Bullock, overall have managed the town’s tax rate well through tough times.
We hope they keep it up. As property-tax revenues start to rise again, the temptation will be to expand and grow the town bureaucracy and expenses. Resist. Resist. Resist.
Be confident in commission
With Tuesday’s re-election of Jim Brown, Phill Younger and Terry Gans, to some extent that marks the start of a new commission. Same faces, but a new beginning.
Mayor Brown spent two difficult years — dealing with the Key Club legal issues, the resignation of a long-time town manager, the hiring of a new one, death of a beloved police chief, firing of a controversial planning director, the Colony and resignation of the town attorney. With those challenges behind, Brown hopes he and the commission can focus now on moving forward.
Longboat Key taxpayers should have confidence they will do the right things.
Larry Grossman, one of the Longboat Key Town Commission candidates who lost, apparently remains so annoyed at the actions of Vice Mayor David Brenner that Grossman doesn’t want to move on.
He wants retribution. Grossman wants Brenner to resign from the Town Commission for removing campaign signs from the right-of-way along John Ringling Boulevard in Lido Shores.
Brenner should not resign. But an apology would be good. Doing it at a Town Commission meeting would carry the appropriate weight.
The sign skirmishes in Longboat elections are as predictable each year as the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico. And typically, they’re silly disputes.
Of course, none of these little nanny-nanny-boo-boo tit-for-tats would occur if candidates and their troops would just … Do the right thing.