Priscilla Whisenant Trace earns District 1 seat in her first run at public office.
The crowd at Main Street Trattoria in Lakewood Ranch was chanting on Tuesday evening, and Vanessa Baugh was having a hard time keeping her composure.
Her husband, Don, had just announced to the crowd she had won the Republican Primary for District 5 county commissioner, meaning she will retain her current seat since she will face no other opposition.
Above the call for "Four more years," Baugh delivered her message.
"This is a responsibility I take very seriously," said Baugh, whose Vanessa Fine Jewelry sits only a few doors down the street from the raucous celebration. "This is a full-time, important job."
The announcement of her victory, 7,349 to 6,484 votes (53.13% to 46.87%), finished a spirited battle against challenger Kathleen Grant. The race did get testy at times.
"I am kind of proud of the race I ran," Grant said Tuesday night. "I have never run before and everyone was supporting the incumbents. But I feel the result shows that clearly a lot of people are unhappy with the way our commission is run. It makes me wish I had spent more money and started earlier, and it also inspires me because I care about this county."
Baugh said she hopes Grant does get involved.
"She has been a strong opponent," Baugh said. "She has a lot to offer, but not this four years."
Between hugs," Baugh talked about her job ahead.
"We have a lot of work to do because we've started a lot of stuff in Manatee County," she said. "The growth is not going to stop and we want to keep the quality of life we want to live. Everybody gets on the roads and they know it is congested. So what are we going to do about it?
"After another year, we are going to have a better grid."
She said the road projects involving 44th Street, Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, Lorraine and Deer roads and the Diverging Diamond project should ease some of the stress.
As she spoke, more well-wishers crushed her with hugs. It was time to bag politics for the night.
Baugh looked over at her husband. She told the crowd, "Don, I could not do what I do without you."
Then she added, "It is not easy to be him."
A line of people waited to greet her. "I am a firm believer you can't do anything by yourself," she said. "It takes people behind you to accomplish anything and right now, I am feeling gratitude toward them. District 5 has put its trust in me."
What did she learn from her race against Grant?
"It tells me I have a lot of work to do," Baugh said.
Gary Tibbetts of Lakewood Ranch said many people in District 5 are pleased with the job she is doing. "Vanessa is very in tune with Manatee County," he said. "She has been here a long time and she knows what people need. People understand she can do it."
Lakewood Ranch's Dan Cacchiotti said she is well-respected. "Vanessa is extremely sincere and she loves her community," he said. "She gets involved. She appeals to people because she is actually one of them."
The other commission race involving eastern Manatee County was District 1, which was won by Priscilla Whisenant Trace, who had just over 40% of the vote, downing runnerup Ron Reagan (31%) and Corie Holmes (28%).
What put her over the top?
"I think it was knowledge of the area," Whisenant Trace said. "People in the area know me. I did my homework, and I listen."
Whisenant Trace was running for public office for the first time. She said a relaxed work schedule allowed her to run.
"This is a full-time position," she said.
With a hard campaign in the bank," Whisenant Trace was asked if she was ready to go to work as a commissioner.
"I'm ready to go home and take a nap," she said.
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