With weighty issues ahead, Longboat voters have challenge in upcoming election.
Congratulations to Chuck Whittall, owner/CEO of Unicorp National Development. You are one step away.
Of course, knowing what we all know about Longboat Key, pardon the cliché: It ain’t over ’til it’s over. Who knows what lawsuits lurk in the Gulf of Mexico to derail Unicorp’s redevelopment of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
But if that day comes in two years when Whittall cuts ribbons, the record books will show the names of the town commissioners who cast this historic vote. Assuming the vote stays the same at the second reading of the ordinance on March 16, the vote will mark the end of a 30-year era and the beginning of a new era of redevelopment and a new generation of town commissioners.
To be sure, the Colony-Unicorp vote will be Topic No. 1 for at least the next week in the town’s restaurants, Publix aisles, tennis courts and condo elevators. And well it should be.
But we hope the euphoria doesn’t divert completely Longboat Key voters’ attention from the upcoming March 20 Town Commission elections. Over the next two years, the Town Commission likely will address three issues that will as important, perhaps more important, than the Colony:
- Converting Longboat Key’s boundaries so all of the island falls under the jurisdiction of Sarasota County;
- Rewriting the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning codes to allow redevelopment of Longboat’s nonconforming properties;
- Expansion and redevelopment of the Longboat Key Club and Resort.
Who are the best candidates to address those issues?
As always, Longboat Key voters are blessed with choices of competent candidates. In the commentary that follows, we assess the three races and offer our recommendations:
Incumbent Irwin Pastor; first-time candidate Jack Wilson
Evaluating candidates often starts with the idea that elections are referendums on incumbents’ performance.
When we posed the question to Commissioner Irwin Pastor why voters should re-elect him, he said: “My record,” followed by listing what he considers accomplishments completed during his tenure — the 911 system; beach renourishment; approval of underground utilities; and completion of Bayfront Park. Perhaps more important than all of these is Pastor has been one of the leaders advancing the idea of converting all of Longboat Key to being part of Sarasota County. That would provide a big tax break to Longboat’s Manatee County taxpayers.
Pastor wants to see that through. It’s not likely to be completed in two years, but you can say Pastor, more than his challenger, has the experience and temperament to keep pushing that effort toward a successful outcome.
As owner of a multistate Pepsi distributorship and director of Pepsi’s government affairs in New York state, Pastor learned the importance of cultivating relationships among all levels of government. “You need a good negotiator,” he said. “That’s my strength.”
Pastor’s opponent, Jack Wilson, is an accomplished entrepreneur in his own right. Wilson in 1975 decided he wanted to be his own boss. He gave up his position as general manager of world operations in London for the type company Letraset and bought a troubled doll manufacturer in Bristol, England, the House of Nisbet. He made it a success, eventually retiring to Longboat Key.
Talk to Wilson, and you’ll quickly learn he has an impressive command of and sensible positions on Longboat’s major issues. But here’s the catch, and he knows it: Longboaters don’t know Wilson; he’s a newcomer to the town’s political scene.
That’s always a disadvantage for anyone running for Town Commission. There’s an unwritten protocol to be elected to Town Commission. Rare is the candidate who is elected to the commission without having served time on a town board.
If Wilson were running against another first-time candidate with little involvement in town government, he would be a solid choice. Unfortunately, he’s running against an incumbent who has earned the trust of voters.
We recommend: Irwin Pastor
Ken Schneier and John Weber, first-time candidates
Neither Schneier nor Weber has the name recognition of Town Commission incumbents. But Schneier has an advantage over Weber that typically suits Longboat Key voters: Schneier has served two years as a member of the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and is in his fourth year as a member of the town’s Planning and Zoning Board, serving this year as vice chair.
Schneier’s professional experience as a lawyer and, more important, his experience with the town’s land-use issues also position him well to address what the Town Commission will face in the coming years. For the past three years, Schneier has worked with his planning board colleagues crafting new zoning codes intended to solve Longboat’s vexing problem with nonconforming properties (only to be tabled by the Town Commission).
Schneier has it right: Give the non-conforming properties the flexibility to redevelop to meet market needs, while maintaining the same number of existing units on each property. At the same time, Schneier holds views that cast him as a fiscal conservative. But he is also a realist about the importance of having thriving, albeit controlled, commercial and tourism sectors on the Key.
In contrast, Weber has made clear his top priority: “Put a moratorium on all further commercial development on the island.”
We’ll thank Mr. Weber for making the commitment to run for Town Commission, but as longtime readers of this newspaper know, when candidates tout the “M” word, it’s over for us.
We recommend: Ken Schneier.
Incumbent Ed Zunz; first-time candidate Randy Langley
If not for this race between incumbent Zunz and Langley, many Longboaters probably would not know there is an election March 20.
Suffice it to say Langley’s candidacy and campaigning have created the most contentious election cycle in 25 years.
You could say the fractiousness first exploded when Langley released to the Longboat Observer in mid-February an affidavit he composed in 2016. It recounted meetings in 2014 at which then-Mayor Jim Brown and George Spoll, then a private citizen, urged Langley not to sell his Colony ownership stake to Unicorp National Development owner Chuck Whittall because “Whittall’s development would never be approved by the town.”
Not long after, Langley lobbed a second grenade. He emailed a letter to Longboat Key voters, rife with accusations of questionable behavior of Town Commission members: “Several, for example, are favoring a personal friend over the town’s best interest.” … “Some of the Town Commission members are playing loose with the rules …” “I have uncovered only some of what is wrong in our Town Hall. Who knows what else is going on …” “They don’t want someone to lift their curtain,” Langley wrote, “someone like me who will rock their boat.”
The coup de grace: Langley told the Longboat Observer “the reason I’m running, so we can have integrity on the council.”
The affidavit and accusations brought responses with equal levels of gunpowder. Commissioner Brown: “This is a false accusation from a convicted felon.” A week later, Brown sent an email to voters with links to four stories in the Orlando Sentinel detailing how Langley was a leading perpetrator when he was 17 to 19 years old in a car-theft ring in Central Florida.
We received calls and emails from voters accusing Langley and the Longboat Observer of not being fully forthcoming about Langley’s past. Zunz felt Langley’s accusations about the commission made him collaterally damaged, painting him (wrongly) as lacking integrity. And he in turn accused Langley of “grossly” misrepresenting Langley’s past — “he was far more than a teenage rascal; he committed continuous felonies …” And he admonished the press as having a duty to provide full details of Langley’s crimes.
Clearly, you could sense the pro-Zunz/anti-Langley factions wanted to retry Langley’s 30-year-old past and paint him as the one without integrity.
Langley, for the record, was sentenced to seven years in prison, 15 years of probation and was to pay with his accomplices $150,000 in restitution.
He served a few months in prison, and because of his age was allowed to attend a boot camp. He completed the boot camp after three months and was freed. In 2017, the state clemency board restored all of Langley’s civil rights. For nearly 30 years, Langley has been a law-abiding citizen.
And now, after living on Longboat Key for 11 years, including stints as the owner of the Cedars Tennis Club and one of the investors in Colony Lender, he wants, as he says, to bring “fresh thinking” to the Town Commission.
These two candidates present an interesting choice. Indeed, if you stepped back from the smoke that has engulfed the Zunz-Langley race, you could assess it this way:
Ed Zunz has been a good commissioner — earnest and thorough, the way he practiced law in New Jersey. He’s honest, decent and trustworthy; high integrity. He’s dedicated to keeping Longboat Longboat. Judge him on his performance, and you could say he is deserving of another term.
But if you think the Town Commission is in need of fresh, disruptive, challenge-the-status-quo thinking, you will get that from Langley.
We have heard voters question Langley’s tactics — why release the affidavit a month before the election and question the entire Commission’s integrity.
Can Longboat Key voters trust him?
We called David Siegal, a Longboat resident and lawyer. Siegal has been Langley’s partner for eight years in Colony Lender, the entity that bought Murf Klauber’s assets in the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. They worked side by side until they sold to Whittall’s Unicorp National Developments.
Siegal knows Langley — his strengths and weaknesses. “I’ve coached him a lot,” Siegal told us, “on thinking before he speaks. He’s much better than he was.” Asked if voters can trust Langley, Siegal said: “Absolutely.”
He also told us this: “Randy Langley is the smartest person I’ve ever known. Let me repeat, Randy Langley is the smartest person I’ve ever known.”
We’ve always been partial to challenging the status quo.
Safe vote: Ed Zunz
Challenge the status quo: Randy Langley