You know the cliché: A picture is worth 1,000 words.
We won’t need that many to make what should be an obvious point.
Two weeks ago, a dozen former Sarasota city mayors endorsed the candidacy of City Commission candidate Susan Chapman for the May 14 commission runoff election.
Chapman, of course, was thrilled.
But the more we thought about that, the more we concluded that endorsement and, in particular, the accompanying photo above, make the choices for voters in this election unequivocally clear.
Study the photo.
Now tap your memory bank.
Think about the terms of those former mayors. Try to think of any pathbreaking, historic, civic or economically uplifting milestones that occurred during their terms of office. Think of events they shepherded that propelled the city forward. Or the vision and leadership they conveyed.
You’ll have to think hard.
To paraphrase another cliché: You can be judged by the company you keep.
We’ll give Susan Chapman her due. She is an earnest, devoted, well-intentioned and indefatigble city activist who believes wholeheartedly that she is acting for the best interests of Sarasota’s citizens. But the fact so many of the city’s former mayors enthusiastically embrace and endorse her should say to those who desperately want the city of Sarasota to move forward that Susan Chapman is the living symbol of yesterday.
She is tied too much to the disappointing past.
Her financial supporters are just as symbolic. So many of them over the years have stood in opposition to those ingredients that are so crucial and essential to the economic vitality of a city and the city’s fiscal future: population growth and development.
Peruse Chapman’s list of campaign contributors, and the “anti-” names pop out: Kelly Kirschner, Dick Clapp, Gretchen Seerie, Kate Lowman, Jude Levy, Pat Kolodgy, Jim Lampl, Rob Patten, Bill Zoller, Dan Lobeck, to name a few.
This is what Chapman would bring to the City Commission dais. The company you keep.
The city of Sarasota can no longer afford this approach — reaching for the middle, constraining to hold on to a small-town past.
To the contrary, the signals surrounding Sarasota are loud and visible. Benderson’s University Town Center mall and its surrounding retail mega-mini-city at University and Interstate 75 threaten to leave downtown Sarasota and, to some extent, St. Armands Circle in its volcanic dust. Lakewood Ranch continues to grow — with people, housing, shopping and recreational amenities. Even downtown Bradenton’s new Riverwalk opened recently to rave reviews. And week after week, you can see in the real estate transactions how homebuilders are banking land and homesites east and south of Venice.
Meantime, the Sarasota City Commission is mired in downtown panhandlers; condo residents who want stricter limits on noise; and pension liabilities that strain the city’s limited finances.
This is no time to cling to the past.
In that vein, Sarasota city voters have two other choices for the commission — incumbent Mayor Suzanne Atwell and second-time candidate Richard Dorfman.
What a contrast. While Chapman represents the past, Atwell and Dorfman, we believe, have the vision, passion, optimism and smarts to help lead and create a brighter future.
Atwell, in fact, is a bridge. She has been on the commission since 2009 and active in the city for more than a decade. She knows the history, issues and personalities. Educated as a psychologist, she is empathetic with the needs of all citizens. She listens.
At the same time, Atwell’s personality is one of pluck, optimism and determination. “We need a can-do attitude at City Hall,” she told us two months ago. And, as we said a month ago in this space, the fact her City Commission peers have selected her two consecutive years to serve as mayor sends an important message to Sarasota voters. She is up to the job.
Indeed, talk to Atwell, and you become enthused by her enthusiasm. The Atwell attitude may best be described as: “Bring it on.”
To be sure, Dorfman is the much lesser known of the three candidates, a newcomer by Sarasota standards (He moved here in 2009).
To some degree, that is likely to make him a risk for many longtime Sarasotans. But he would bring to the City Commission business experience, 20-plus years in the professional sports promotion arenas in Europe and the United States.
This is important: “I’ve been held accountable,” Dorfman told us in an interview in February. “I’ve been responsible for delivering shareholder value. The citizens of Sarasota would be my shareholders.”
That way of thinking is crucial.
Yes, Dorfman certainly is more of a risk than Chapman. But that’s what the city of Sarasota needs now — a fresh perspective, someone who isn’t steeped in the old ways. Outgoing Commissioner Terry Turner was a businessman, too, and he approached the city’s challenges with the pragmatic reasoning you would expect. Dorfman will do the same, with a notable difference — a much more energetic enthusiasm and vision to help Sarasota become more and better than it is.
The choices are clear.
There is no doubt about Atwell. The citizens of Sarasota need her spirit, vision and leadership on the commission.
Between Dorfman and Chapman, the contrast is definitive: forward versus stagnant. Grow versus atrophy. Up versus down.
Get out of the comfort zone. Reach higher, Sarasota. Shake the past. Take a step toward the future.
We recommend: Atwell and Dorfman.
+ Remember Benghazi?
Who killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALS Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods? When will they be brought to justice?
It’s an old story, pushed off the front pages by subsequent terrorism at home. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting some of the findings released last week in a congressional progress report on the investigation into the events before, during and after the Benghazi attack.
Here are excerpts from the report:
• “The President, as Commander-in-Chief, failed to proactively anticipate the significance of Sept. 11 and provide the Department of Defense with the authority to launch offensive operations beyond self-defense. Defense Department assets were correctly positioned for the general threat across the region, but the assets were not authorized at an alert posture to launch offensive operations beyond self-defense and were provided no notice to defend diplomatic facilities.
• “Senior State Department officials requested — and the White House approved — that the details of the threats, specifics of the previous attacks and previous warnings be removed to insulate the Department from criticism that it ignored the threat environment in Benghazi. Thus, the claim that the State Department’s edits were made solely to protect that investigation is not credible.”
Four Americans are dead as a result of negligence at the highest levels of government. And yet, none of the persons responsible has paid a price or stepped forward to accept full responsibility and apologize to the victims’ families for their actions.
Last week on this page, we incorrectly spelled U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s name.