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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 2, 2017 3 years ago

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A call to the Generation X and Generation Y voters of the city of Sarasota: This election will set the course for your family’s future in Sarasota. 1) Vote. 2) Stop STOP!

This is a message to the Generation X and Generation Y voters of the city of Sarasota (as well as to all city voters who want a prosperous future for the next generations):

1) Let this soak in: Economic and population growth are essential to the flourishing of prosperity … essential to your future and your children’s future.

2) Vote March 14. Two seats are being contested on the five-member City Commission. Your votes, especially, will determine whether Sarasota moves forward or backward.

3) Stop STOP! This is the organized group that wants, primarily, to stop a process in city codes that allows city planners to approve development plans without public hearings — so long as the plans meet all required city codes.

STOP! wants to require public hearings before the city planning board and City Commission. Both boards would need to approve a project after hearing input from the public.

At first glance, STOP!’s efforts sound good and more democratic. But in the larger context, the overall thrust of this group is exactly what it says: STOP! It wants an onerous, bigger government net that will add higher costs to all development and thereby make Sarasota housing even more expensive than it already is for Gen Xers and Gen Yers. 

Two candidates, in particular, are aligned with STOP! and embrace a bigger, more restrictive and intrusive city government: incumbent Commissioner Susan Chapman and candidate Jennifer Ahearn-Koch.

And based on past city elections, whose recent outcomes have been controlled by a minority of voters — the pro-STOP!, pro-regulation, anti-free market activists — Chapman and Ahearn-Koch stand a good chance of winning the two seats.

Mind you, this year’s city elections have more candidates than usual — eight. The two candidates who obtain 50% or more of the vote win. But with so many candidates, it’s likely none of them will reach the 50% threshold, creating a run-off of the top three vote-getters.

With the past four city elections and run-offs averaging only 19% voter turnout, the say-no-to-everything coalitions who favor Chapman and Ahearn-Koch have decided the outcomes.

This is why the Gen Xers and Gen Yers who care about economic opportunity, affordability and the future need to vote.

But vote for whom?

As we have seen and heard the candidates, spoken with their associates and former associates and analyzed their views and visions, three candidates have risen to the top who most closely embrace what we always espouse for every level of government: that of limited government, fiscal restraint, robust property rights, safe streets and the goodness of free-market capitalism.

Our top three, alphabetically: Hagen Brody, Patrick Gannon and Martin Hyde.

As it is with every political candidate, each has his strengths and weaknesses. Here’s what stands out to us:

Hagen Brody

For Gen Xers and Gen Yers, Brody, 35, stands out as a representative of the next generation. Indeed, we have advocated for many years that it is time for the next generation to become more engaged to determine the destiny of Sarasota.

It would be refreshing to see a young, unfamiliar face on the commission — someone not from the same ol’, same ol’ factions that have dominated City Hall over the past two decades.

Brody represents that. But more than that, he is smart and grasps the larger vision. Although a registered Democrat, he sounds like a fiscal conservative. When Brody spoke to our editors, he said he has learned while campaigning: “People are furious about how their tax dollars are being spent.” He says creating a parks district would be nothing more than a tax increase.

He sees three priorities for city government: Affordable utilities; sustainable infrastructure (streets, sewers, etc.); and top-notch public safety. Sounds like a great agenda.

How do you fix the city’s pension problems? “You don’t fix it by spending more money.”

Asked why voters should choose a largely unknown candidate, Brody responds with great insight: “Why would you want (to elect) someone who spent time on the planning board during this period? Why leave the reins in the hands of people who got us here?” These are references to planning board members Ahearn-Koch and Gannon and City Commission Chapman.

To be sure, Brody is a risk. This is his first engagement in the public arena. He grew up in Sarasota. As a teen, he was arrested for credit-card theft. But he reformed and earned his law degree. He served in the State Attorney’s office until his superiors discovered he had let his Florida Bar license lapse. “I was in the middle of a major heroin trafficking case,” he told us. His license was quickly reinstated. A short time afterward, “I was nominated to serve on the Sarasota County Bar Board of Directors.

“I’m doing this for the right reasons,” Brody told us. “I’m doing this because I chose to come back to Sarasota to make a difference. I want to see us move in a different direction.”

Patrick Gannon

Patrick Gannon is the establishment wise owl.

That’s not to say he is a part of the city’s “shadow government” of anti-everything constituents. He’s a steady, predictable, logical problem solver. 

For starters, Gannon’s professional experience gives him a seasoned perspective on finances, the dynamics of leadership and the role of a commissioner who must weigh the needs and demands of many constituencies.

From 2000 to 2008, Gannon was CEO and a board member of OASIS Open, the international consortium of 600 organizations that oversaw the development and management of standards on the internet. He was involved in startups in Silicon Valley, eventually serving as a senior executive at two tech companies. And since moving here in 2006, he has been active in city affairs, recently as president of the Downtown Condominium Association and a member of the city’s planning board. 

Gannon knows more about the workings of city ordinances and the way City Hall works (and doesn’t work) than any of the candidates. It’s not overstating to say he is a technocrat. Talk to Gannon, and you’ll quickly walk through the weeds of technical detail. He works all the channels and coalitions tirelessly for a consensus solution.

This is encouraging: When speaking about city finances, Gannon told our editors: “I don’t see where financial impacts are ever discussed.” He spoke of a “significant waste of taxpayer money” under previous commissions.

Gannon is a pragmatic thinker. He says solving traffic would be his top priority. And he made reference in our conversation about the importance of property rights — a plus. The closest he comes to a vision is this: “Sarasota is at a pivotal time in its history,” Gannon told us. “If we don’t get it right, we lose the opportunity for 50 years.” At least he sees that.

Martin Hyde

Martin Hyde strikes us as the most outwardly passionate for winning a seat on the commission. Mr. Social Media. It’s probably safe to say none of the candidates has worked the streets for voters’ support as Hyde has — a sign of commitment.

Hyde — as is Brody and Gannon — is an outsider. This is his first venture into the public arena as more than an online critic of City Hall. After watching the way the current commission has managed taxpayers’ money and other issues (the lift station, parking meters, events, homelessness), the Howard Beale in him (“Mad as hell …”) motivated him to be more than a crank.

Owner of Copyforce Inc., a Sarasota office equipment provider, Hyde, like Gannon, is a common-sense thinker and has the hands-on experience of a business owner who leads and manages 24 employees and carries the risks and burdens of making it profitable.

Hyde describes himself as closer to libertarian in his views, but he doesn’t take strident stands on most issues. His MO: Listen, evaluate, make common-sense judgments. But there’s one exception: Spending. “There will be no sacred cows on expense and no line item that I won’t consider carefully before approving,” he says. “These are taxpayers’ funds, which are hard earned and deserve to be treated with due respect.”

On growth, Hyde also takes an approach that accepts rather than resists reality: While STOP! is about restraint, Hyde says you can’t live in denial and resistance that Florida and Sarasota will continue to grow, so evolve with it and manage for it.     

A Brit by birth, a Sarasota resident for 18 years and U.S. citizen for 12, Hyde is engaging with his British accent and humor. Judging from his fundraising, Hyde’s delivery of his message of common sense has attracted a following. He has raised four times the amount of campaign money than his closest rival — nearly $50,000. 

But there’s another side to his British humor. Recipients of his emails and personal encounters see a tendency for what they call a quick trigger and cutting glibness. Hyde responds: “If I was unable to control myself, I wouldn’t have lasted 30 years in business. If I was a complete maniac, the truth would be out by now.”

The ‘bullet’ vote

Perhaps it’s in our nature: There are times to take risks, always challenge the status quo. But do so rationally. 

That philosophy compels us to encourage Sarasota’s Gen Xers and Gen Yers — as well as all Sarasota city voters — to bring a new direction to City Hall and choose a new generation of leaders on the Sarasota City Commission. 

Think about it: The overall makeup and thinking of commissioners over the past two decades largely has clung to the philosophy of holding on to an unrealistic premise — that in the state of Florida, Sarasota can remain stuck in time. 

Don’t STOP! Go forward. 

The three candidates most likely to fulfill that are Brody, Gannon and Hyde. 

But you only get two votes. 

Which two of the three? Here’s a hedged vote: the predictable, establishment oriented Patrick Gannon and the next generation, 35-year-old Hagen Brody.

But if you want to guarantee that at least one of these three indeed wins a commission seat with 50% or more of the vote, take the “bullet” approach. Vote only for one candidate. When you vote for only one candidate, you reduce the total number of votes cast, thus increasing the percentage of the vote given to the candidate with the most “bullet” votes. 

If you have the courage to shoot the bullet and cast your vote for the future, we recommend: Hagen Brody

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