It’s been a week since Commissioner Shannon Staub announced her retirement, and already more than a dozen people are jockeying for position to be her replacement.
The list of high-level candidates includes former county commissioners, sitting planning commissioners, sitting city commissioners and more.
“I think we have a batch of great candidates,” said Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County.
Gruters called a special meeting Sept. 21, during which he expected to choose a candidate that the party would back. But he thought he was going to have a pool of seven or eight people. Instead, 14 potential candidates showed up, and four others, who couldn’t be there, also told Gruters they want to be considered.
And those are just the Republicans. Two Democrats have already filed their applications.
Gruters said because of the wide interest, the party decided not to back just one person.
A short list of stronger candidates is beginning to emerge. Former County Commissioner Paul Mercier is one of the interested parties.
“There is a huge learning curve in this job,” he said. “The commission needs someone who can hit the deck running.”
Walt Augustinowicz, an Englewood businessman and active Republican who led the group opposing the school-tax renewal, is garnering of support among other party members.
“We need somebody sensible to watch the budget and say “no,” he said. “As a businessperson, who’s actually grown a business in this economy, I can actually help the county.”
Former Sarasota City Commissioner Danny Bilyeu said he’s always had aspirations to be a county commissioner.
“The time may be right,” he said. “Even if I’m not appointed now, I will seriously consider running in 2012.”
But much of the speculation surrounds Planning Commissioner Christine Robinson. Because she’s been a loyalist to Gov. Charlie Crist, many people believe she’s already got the job. The governor’s office will make the appointment.
“To say I’m the favorite is not accurate,” Robinson said. “I’ve been a longtime supporter of his, but I’m not a social friend.”
Robinson, whose husband, Eric, is a former Republican Party chairman, submitted her application Sept. 22.
Robinson’s home is in Venice, but outside Staub’s district. She secured a rental in the district this week and will soon be shopping for a home to buy there.
Gruters, however, seems to think Robinson will be the selection.
“It’s reasonable to expect Charlie would pick someone that he knows and trusts if two or more candidates are equal,” Gruters said. “She’s been with him through thick and thin for 14 years, and she is well qualified to serve.”
Staub is leaving two years before her term expires, and in cases such as that, the governor appoints a replacement to serve out the term.
Mercier expressed strong feelings about the new appointee only serving until 2012.
“Let them earn the right to be there, instead of being anointed by the governor or political cronies,” he said. “I have no desire to be in there longer than two years.”
Immediately after Staub’s announcement last week, there was widespread confusion about just which governor would be making the appointment.
Gov. Charlie Crist is a candidate for U.S. senate, and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp told Gruters last week that if Crist wins the senate seat, Kottkamp would immediately become governor. In that case, Kottkamp believes he would be making the commission appointment.
Crist’s office, though, said that’s not the case, because even if the governor were elected to the Senate, he wouldn’t be sworn in until January.
However, the governor’s press secretary said appointments usually take three or four months, because of all the interviews and background checks, so there’s no guarantee Crist would choose a new commissioner before January.
Staub herself believes Crist will pick the new commissioner, because that was her intent when selecting her resignation date — Dec. 15.
“I wanted specifically to have Charlie Crist make the appointment, so the county would have a full commission,” she said. “He knows our commission.”
Because Crist has left the Republican Party to run as an independent, many Republicans fear the governor may not appoint a Republican.
In fact, a spokesman for the governor will choose the best candidate, regardless of what party he represents.
At Augustinowicz’s suggestion at the Republican Party’s special meeting, members voted to send a letter to Staub, urging her to wait to retire until January. In which case, the new governor would make the appointment.
Staub said she won’t reconsider.
“I know the Republicans think the new governor will be (Republican Rick) Scott,” she said. “But what if it’s not. They wouldn’t be too happy then.”
At least 18 people are interested in replacing Commissioner Shannon Staub, including:
• Ted Allen, Sarasota County planning commissioner
• Walt Augustinowicz, Republican Executive Committee policy chairman
• Arnold Berns, South County community activist
• Danny Bilyeu, former Sarasota city commissioner and field aide for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan
• Dean Calimarus, former Venice mayor
• Vanessa Carusone, North Port city commissioner
• Matt Deeboer, former Charlotte County Commissioner
• Scott Dowdy, Sarasota County employee
• Rick Eaton, former Democratic U.S. House candidate
• Barbara Gross, former North Port city commissioner
• Curt Lavarello, former sheriff candidate
• Ken Maturo, North Port Republican Club vice president
• Randy McClendon, Republican activist
• Paul Mercier, former Sarasota County commissioner
• John Minder, South Venice engineer
• Christine Robinson, Sarasota County planning commissioner
• Nancy Ross, Englewood business owner
• Lowell Thomas, Republican Party member