Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2009 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers. Check back each day fro a reprinting — and any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED March 19, 2009
The second time was the charm for Village resident Gene Jaleski, who squeaked out a slim 198-vote margin victory over incumbent Commissioner Randall Clair Tuesday night in his second, consecutive attempt at a commission seat.
Celebrating with his companion, campaign supporters and friends at a victory party at Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub in the Village, Jaleski said he was happy he decided to run again after losing to District 5 Commissioner Bob Siekmann last year.
“The people have spoken this year, and I can’t wait to serve them,” Jaleski said.
Jaleski was also happy to discover that 75% of the voters, or 1,720 votes, approved a referendum that he supported. The referendum approval gives the town permission to obtain a 30-year, $27 million general-obligation bond that will help pay for skyrocketing town water-and-wastewater, capital-improvement projects.
The intent of the commission is to lower water bills that rose an average of 14% Key-wide in November to help pay for upgrades to the town’s utility system that have come in over budget.
However, the slim vote total was the talk of the election evening, and the closest race since Commissioner Bob Siekmann squeaked out a close 201-vote win over Miles Leavitt for the District 5 seat in March 2006.
In Manatee County, Jaleski received 55.8% of the vote, or 414 votes, compared to Clair’s 44.2%, or 328 votes. In Sarasota County, Jaleski received 53.6% of the vote, or 827 votes, compared to Clair’s 46.4%, or 715 votes.
Jaleski said he had a good feeling about the election all day.
That good feeling was solidified for Jaleski even after he missed his congratulatory phone call from Town Clerk Trish Granger. But, after going through his voicemails, he listened to her proclaim, “Congratulations, Commissioner Jaleski. You’re first meeting will be Monday, March 23.”
Jaleski broke out into a big smile after hearing the voicemail and gave his companion, Elisabeth Phillipson, a big hug before spreading the news.
“I owe this election to the support I received from the community,” Jaleski said.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the island, Clair heard the disappointing news from Granger at a party held for him at the Fairway Bay Clubhouse in Longboat Key Club Harbourside.
“I’m disappointed because I think I have done a good job,” Clair said. “But the voters have spoken, and I congratulate Mr. Jaleski on his win.”
Clair and Jaleski clashed over several issues throughout the campaign, none of which stood out more than The Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside application.
In December, Town Attorney David Persson warned the Town Commission and at-large candidate Gene Jaleski that it’s a problem for them to make an opinion or review the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s application until it’s presented to them in a quasi-judicial hearing setting.
But Jaleski not only reviewed the project, but also opposed it as proposed throughout the campaign, explaining that the voters had the right to know how he felt about a proposal that he believes is too massive.
The move won over several voters who oppose the project, votes that Jaleski lacked when he lost by 1,185 votes to Siekmann in March 2008.
Jaleski’s stance on the Islandside project also made the race close from a campaign-contribution standpoint.
Jaleski, who only raised $300 in last year’s failed bid at the District 5 seat, collected $10,100 this year according to the final campaign treasurer’s report, just $89 less than Clair. Residents who live behind the gates of Islandside gave Jaleski hundreds of dollars in donations, frustrated with the fact that Clair did not take a stance on the project, as advised, by the town attorney.
Jaleski’s campaign manager, Lee Pokoik, told The Longboat Observer that Jaleski turned down hundreds of dollars in contributions toward the end of the election.
“I think people were impressed that I was willing to take a stance on the Key Club issue,” Jaleski said.
The race and bond-referendum question, however, didn’t send people to the polls in great numbers.
Only one week of early voting this year resulted in 1,201 votes, or an 18% voter turnout, compared to two weeks of early voting in 2008 that drew in 1,277 votes, or a 24% voter turnout. And 2,294 total votes were cast Key-wide, with 35.3% of the town’s 6,502 registered voters casting a ballot, compared to 2,621 votes cast, or a 41.2% voter turnout in 2008.
A crowd of about 75 people gathered around Jaleski to celebrate as he shook hands with friends on Election Night.
“A vote for Jaleski was a vote for change,” said Joe Vermeren.
And, Sleepy Lagoon resident Robert Krosney agreed.
“Jaleski has promised to represent the community,” Krosney said. “ I truly believe the community now has representation.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com
✓ Denotes winner
✓ Jaleski 1,241 54.3
Clair 1,043 45.7
✓ Jaleski 827 53.6
Clair 715 46.4
✓ Jaleski 414 55.8
Clair 328 44.2
(Approves a g.o. bond for the town’s water-and-wastewater program)
✓ Yes 1,720 75
No 574 25
✓ Yes 1,213 78.4
No 334 21.6
✓ Yes 507 67.9
No 240 32.1
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