Long-time commissioner and Mayor Lee Rothenberg and newcomer Lynn Larson received the most votes in the Tuesday, Jan. 26 preliminary election, securing a face-off for the District 1 seat this March.
The odd person out in the three-way race of Country Club Shores residents was Lee Pokoik, who received 316 votes, or 17.9% of the total vote.
Larson received the most votes at 881 votes, or exactly 50% of the vote. Rothenberg received 565 votes, or 32.1% of the total votes cast.
In Manatee County, Rothenberg received 22.4% of the vote, or 126 votes, compared to Larson’s 54.4%, or 306 votes; and Pokoik’s 23.1%, or 130 votes.
In Sarasota County, Rothenberg received 36.6% of the vote, or 439 votes, compared to Larson’s 47.9%, or 575 votes; and compared to Pokoik’s 15.5%, or 186 votes.
Both Rothenberg’s age (84) and his decision to run for another term (which gives him more than six years of service if elected next month) were questioned by some residents and his two opponents in the past month.
The mayor, who said he had no time to campaign because he has been presiding over regular meetings at Town Hall and Longboat Key Club and Resort Islandside hearings at Temple Beth Israel, felt vindicated by the vote of confidence at the polls.
“The voters have spoken,” Rothenberg said. “I’m very happy to be moving onto the final election. I will fight to continue to work for all of the citizens of Longboat Key to make this the best community in the country.”
Larson, meanwhile, was happy to hear that 50% of the voters cast a vote for her.
Larson, who ran on a platform of change, insinuated during the runoff campaign that Rothenberg and the rest of the commissioners don’t listen to the voters they represent.
Larson, who, if elected will become the first woman commissioner on the dais since Joan Webster and the eighth overall, is already looking forward to the race against the mayor.
“This is the first race I have ever been in and I’m having a blast,” Larson said. “It feels absolutely wonderful, and it confirms for me that the message I have been sending to the voters is the right message.”
Pokoik did not return phone calls seeking comment about the election results.
During the preliminary election, Larson and Pokoik tended to run on the same platform, while Rothenberg expressed frustration because he doesn’t believe his challengers know about the happenings of town government.
The three candidates clashed on raising taxes, beach renourishment and ways to fix massive debt in the town’s pension plans.
Larson and Pokoik told voters they would not vote to raise taxes, while Rothenberg said he would do so if the town needed the money.
Rothenberg also pushed for support of the town manager, who was not evaluated publicly last year. Both Larson and Pokoik, however, said evaluations were critical and questioned the town manager’s salary and benefits package.
And Rothenberg said the more than $27 million debt in the town’s pension plans would be paid down over time. But Larson and Pokoik expressed disbelief and frustration with the mayor’s comments.
The preliminary election, however, garnered strong voter turnout in the weeklong early-voting period. Officials from the Manatee and Sarasota counties Supervisor of Elections offices confirmed that 1,070 registered voters on Longboat Key took advantage of early voting last week; there were 1,762 voters overall — 28.5% of the 6,295 registered voters.
And, of course, it wouldn’t have been an election on Longboat Key without campaign sign controversy. The placement of signs was disputed throughout the election.
And, last week, the Larson and Pokoik campaign camps had disagreements over where they parked cars or set up spots to wave to the voters on Bay Isles Road (see box at right).
The preliminary election sets the scene for a municipal election on March 16 that will have three contested races.
Commissioner Peter O’Connor’s District 3 seat is being challenged by David Brenner. And Phillip Younger is challenging at-large Commissioner Hal Lenobel’s seat.
Campaign issues still abound
The District 1 preliminary election season was a feisty one for two of the three candidates that lasted until the final vote was cast Tuesday, Jan. 26.
Town Clerk Trish Granger said her preliminary election day started off with an early morning of phone-call complaints from Lynn Larson supporters, who said that more than 10 Lee Pokoik campaign signs had been placed at the Longboat Island Chapel, site of the Manatee County polling location.
Only two campaign signs are allowed on a parcel and only if the property owner grants permission.
Longboat Island Chapel officials also called to report the excessive signage, which was removed because the chapel did not want to take a stance on a candidate.
Supporters on site, however, can hold as many campaign signs as they want, as long as they aren’t put into the ground.
The code enforcement department, Granger said, has also been busy in the past week, checking campaign signs that residents complained were in the right of way. However, none of the signs was placed improperly.
And in the past week, things got heated between the Larson and Pokoik camps, when supporters from both sides attempted to gain better visibility for sign waving on Bay Isles Road at Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road.
Larson and her husband, Jim, waved to voters the first few days at Town Hall.
But starting Tuesday, Jan. 19, Pokoik arrived at Town Hall as well, and backed his car up in front of the Larson camp, Larson said, so people were blocked from seeing her signs.
The move sent off a battle of the parking spaces between the two camps for the rest of the early voting week, with both candidates getting to Town Hall as early as 5 a.m. to get the best location to wave to motorists.
Pokoik said that one day last week, Larson blocked his car and part of the Town Hall entrance, but neither Town Manager Bruce St. Denis nor Police Chief Al Hogle, he said, returned his calls of complaint.
Hogle, however, placed barricades on the east and west side of the Town Hall entrance last week to make it safer for vehicles entering and exiting Town Hall.
Larson 881 50
Pokoik 316 17.9
Rothenberg 565 32.1
Larson 575 47.9
Pokoik 186 15.5
Rothenberg 439 36.6
Larson 306 54.4
Pokoik 130 23.1
Rothenberg 126 22.4
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]er.com.