Three competitive races with six candidates vying for the Longboat Key Town Commission are a sign of community engagement. It’s healthy.
Likewise, the outcomes of the three races will be important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is they will send a message to Longboat Key taxpayers, residents and voters. Taxpayers and commissioners alike will know, definitively, for the first time in two years which direction voters want the town to go.
In truth, you can argue the town’s sitting commission doesn’t exactly reflect the will of the voters. Three of the seven current commissioners were appointed to their seats — Commissioners Pat Zunz, Terry Gans and Phill Younger. And Commissioner Jack Duncan has run unopposed twice. You can interpret Duncan’s victory as a testament to his effectiveness.
Indeed, unless a commissioner errs, Longboat voters have shown a willingness to let incumbents run unopposed. Certainly, former Mayor Hal Lenobel comes to mind. In more than a decade on the commission, he encountered only one opponent, Phill Younger, in 2010, with Lenobel winning that race as well.
So it is good for Longboat Key voters to have choices, particularly as the town continues to move through a generational change and toward a new age. To paraphrase the old advertising line: This is not your father’s Longboat Key any more.
Indeed, it’s not. And as we sense from conversations among many Longboaters, there is an overwhelming desire for the town government to take the necessary steps to create a framework and foundation that will allow Longboat Key to remain one of Florida’s premier, high-value residential resort communities — in tune with the consumers of the 21st century. Longboaters want the Key to “up its game.”
Who best to lead that transition? That is one question on which to base your vote.
But we’ll add a second question, one that, in spite of his prickliness, former Longboat Key Commission Al Green said he often used when judging Town Commission candidates: Which candidate do you think will perform best in those tough, unpredictable situations that inevitably arise? Which candidate has the wisdom to do what’s right and best?
And let’s not forget the other test. We like to invoke the wisdom of economist Arthur Laffer. As he contends, in the end, every election is a referendum on the incumbent’s performance. It is indeed.
Given all of the above as the backdrop, we offer some observations and comments and our recommendations on the six candidates in this year’s town elections:
AT-LARGE (one-year term)
Terry Gans (incumbent) / Irwin Pastor
If you remain stuck on old news and hold grudges, you are likely to judge these two candidates on which side they stood in the Longboat Key Club and Resort expansion dispute. In short, Gans supported it; Pastor opposed it.
Pastor, in fact, did more than oppose it. He was and is vice president of the Islandside Property Owners Coalition, the group that was the most strident and organized opponent to the Key Club’s proposal. Or, depending on your point of view, Pastor was vice president of the coalition that argued in public hearings and showed in the courts the Town Commission wrongly adjudicated the Key Club’s application, overstepping the bounds of the town codes.
There is much more to these two candidates than the Key Club dispute, however. And they should be judged on those merits.
In his one year of serving in the seat vacated by Commissioner Lenobel, Gans has shown a strong understanding of the nuances of the issues confronting the Town Commission. This comes from Gans being an engaged and interested citizen; for the past few years he has been a fixture in the audience at Town Commission and planning board meetings. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of the town commissioners and town managers who is more attuned than Gans and on top of such issues as the town budget, beach renourishment, town attorney replacement, zoning codes, union pensions, you name it. Gans is a student of the town.
Here are other Gans attributes: He has an ability to cut to the quick of an issue and apply straight-forward common sense to resolving them. If you have read any of his op-ed contributions to this paper, he demonstrates clear thinking.
On this next point, it’s a toss-up between Gans and Pastor: They are equally passionate about Longboat Key and fostering a bright future here. They want to make Longboat Key better.
Gans has been a positive contributor to problem solving on the commission. He has commission experience over Pastor. But those who know Pastor know that problem solving — taking struggling companies and rebuilding them, or creating startups and growing them — has been the hallmark of an impressive career.
Pastors’ two primary business ventures were that of CEO of the Pepsi-Cola Buffalo Bottling Corp. in Buffalo, N.Y., and South Jersey Distributors Corp., a beer distributor based in Pleasantville, N.J. In addition, he served as founder and CEO of five other companies; and CEO or board chairman of three not-for-profit associations, including founder of the Buffalo Niagara Sports Foundation. Pastor has repeatedly tried to convey in public forums that he has spent nearly 50 years of his business career negotiating to bring sides together to move forward. He is big on making deals from which all parties walk away satisfied.
To be sure, Pastor would bring an astute business perspective and wisdom to the Town Commission. He is qualified.
But here’s what voters need to think about: Pastor hasn’t been involved in town government until the Key Club dispute. In forums, he acknowledged not being on top of details on some town issues.
And there’s the obvious question some residents ask: Would he be a shill for IPOC. On this, Pastor is insistent he is his own man. Pastor says he served IPOC as the peacemaker-negotiator between IPOC and Loeb Partners, a buffer between IPOC’s combative president, Bob White, and Loeb’s tough CEO, Joseph Lesser.
If you accept the regimen that elections are referenda on incumbents, we would argue Gans has shown he is and would be a good commissioner. At the same time, so would Pastor. This is a tough call.
Recommendation: Gans has earned the one year left on the term. We encourage Pastor to stay involved and run again. He has a lot to offer Longboat Key.
AT-LARGE (two-year term)
Gene Jaleski / Phill Younger (incumbent)
Phill Younger is one of the best analytical thinkers and one of the smartest members of the Town Commission.
While he was among the group of commissioners who voted in favor of the Key Club expansion application, Younger has a breadth of contributions that shows he is an independent thinker and willing to challenge the status quo. This has been especially so on the town’s finances and beach strategy. Longboat taxpayers should feel comfortable having Younger watch over town spending.
For all of Younger’s attributes, you could say the same about his opponent, Gene Jaleski. He is always analyzing town issues. And he, more than anyone on Longboat Key and longer than anyone on Longboat Key, has urged the Town Commission to challenge the status quo on just about every major issue. We all know his trigger points: cellular service and beach renourishment topping the list. Like Younger, he is well versed on virtually every issue that confronts the Town Commission.
But Longboat Key taxpayers have already experienced what happens when Jaleski sits at the dais. He gets marginalized.
To a great extent, Jaleski’s best contribution to the town and its taxpayers is to do what he does best — coax, nudge and cajole those in charge to think harder, be smarter and constantly look for the better way; to watchdog and bulldog the sitting commissioners.
Jim Brown / Larry Grossman
This race is similar to that of Phill Younger and Gene Jaleski — the experienced incumbent, Brown, versus the coaxer, the challenger, the idea man who hasn’t quite been able to prove yet to the voters that he could move the town forward in a meaningful way, Grossman.
Mayor Brown, understandably, is the bull’s eye for those who don’t want to forget the Key Club dispute. He has the big title.
And he’s not afraid to be blunt-spoken about the way he feels. Sometimes he gets passionate, with a boldface, capital “P,” if you get our drift.
But that’s all right. If voters put aside the Key Club and think about all that Brown has taken on and had thrown at him in the past two years as mayor, it’s a wonder the guy hasn’t said: “Here, take this job and shove it.” To wit:
The departure of Bruce St. Denis and hiring of David Bullock; the controversy over former planning Director Monica Simpson and the late Police Chief Al Hogle; the death of Hogle; the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort dispute; the employee pensions; beach erosion on the north end; Publix redevelopment; and, of course, the aftermath of the Key Club lawsuits.
Knowing what’s ahead for the Key, Mayor Brown, architect and planner, has a clear vision of what direction the town needs to go. He has proven himself to be an action-oriented leader.
Recommendation: Keep Brown. And urge the commission to tap into Grossman’s planning expertise as it embarks on rewriting the town’s zoning codes.
VOTE! YOU CAN AFFECT
If history is a guide, voter turnout in the March 12 Town Commission election should be 40% or more. That would be nice; even better if it is higher.
The last time voter turnout in a town election exceeded 40% was in 2010, when six candidates were vying for three Town Commission seats.
Longboat Key’s registered voters total 6,413.
LONGBOAT VOTER TURNOUT
Registered | Votes | %
2008: Bob Siekman-Gene Jaleski
6,410 | 2,688 | 41.9%
2009: Gene Jaleski-Randy Clair
6,502 | 2,688 | 41.3%
2010: David Brenner-Peter O’Connor, Hal Lenobel-Phill Younger, Lynn Larsen-Lee Rothenberg
6,329 | 2,991 | 47.2%
2011: Beach bonds, charter change
6,296 | 1,176 | 18.6%
2012: David Brenner-Ray Rajewski
6,413 | 2,334 | 36.4%
AT-LARGE, ONE-YEAR TERM
Terry Gans (incumbent)
AT-LARGE, TWO-YEAR TERM
Phill Younger (incumbent)
DISTRICT 4, TWO-YEAR TERM
Jim Brown (incumbent)
Larry K. Grossman
All Longboat Key voters can cast votes for all three races.