There are still two years until the next general election, but subversive campaign tactics may have already begun.
At least that’s what Sarasota Council of Neighborhood Associations President Lourdes Ramirez thought when she received a thank-you note for a $200 contribution to Keith Fitzgerald, the Democratic nominee for the 16th Congressional District, she never made.
The unexpected letter prompted Ramirez to up her chances of running from 50% to 75%.
“No one can tell me what I can and can’t do,” Ramirez said, in reference to the fake contribution. “The person who decided to do this obviously doesn’t know much about me.”
Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight is investigating the felony, which led to the emergence of at least one candidate to fill the County Commission seat Nora Patterson will vacate in 2014.
The election is important because the winner takes over a position that Patterson has held for 14 years. And that candidate will take over a district with complex zoning regulations, an economy that contributed nearly a third of the county’s tourist taxes the last fiscal year and has had a historically tense relationship with the county.
Ramirez became a registered Republican less than a decade ago and said she fears opposition, when campaigns start to pick up, will focus on the fact that she used to be a Democrat. Ramirez has attended meetings, mixers and events of various Republican clubs in the county to beef up her visibility to the party, she said, to prepare for her run for the District 4 seat on the Sarasota County Commission.
The Siesta Key resident is known for her meticulous analyses of building permits and the Sarasota County code, which she meets regularly with county staff to discuss.
Mark Hawkins, who was recently elected to the Sarasota County Charter Review Board, said he also would consider running for Patterson’s seat.
Hawkins ran for the District 4 seat in 2010 and raised $28,000 to support his campaign. He ran as a Democrat opposing Patterson, a Republican, and took 35% of the votes in the primary election. But he said he would choose to run as a Republican if he entered the 2014 race — incumbents generally have an easier time defeating opponents in the primary election.
Mark Smith, a Siesta Key architect involved in various island organizations, also ran for Patterson’s seat in 2010, raising $32,000 and representing the GOP in the primary election. Campaign contributions show that Smith had support from more than 10 Village merchants and property owners.
Smith won 44% of the vote —16,000 votes — which was about 5,000 less than Patterson received. She raised roughly $180,000 during her campaign. That was the first time Patterson faced opposition for her seat.
“When I ran before, it was the right time in my life, and I felt it was definitely time for a change,” Smith said. “We had to get the economy going, and we still do need to get the economy going.”
But, as the economy continues to improve, Smith is delving into new residential construction projects on Siesta Key and making a bid for the County Commission seat unmanageable, he said.
“I didn’t realize how time-consuming it was,” Smith said. “When you’re running, you have to put everything in your life aside.”
Smith said someone with a background in building or construction design on the County Commission would better the local economy, and he currently endorses Kimley-Horn and Associates principal Alan Maio for the District 4 seat.
“I thought about running this time for (Sarasota County Commissioner) Jon Thaxton’s seat, but I still had some projects to finish before I retire from my day job,” Maio said during an Oct. 31 phone interview. The planner and former chairman of the Sarasota County Planning Commission said he would be ready in 2014.
The county has tapped Kimley-Horn several times for large-scale capital-improvement projects, such as the Siesta Key beach improvements.
“I wanted to make sure I was finished with my private-sector work, because I consider the commission a full-time job,” Maio said.
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