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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 7 years ago

When choosing a candidate, don't get caught up by shiny objects

by: Susan Nilon

The 2013 Sarasota City Elections are upon us right now. With only a little over a month left before it's time to vote, most city dwellers barely even realize that there is an election going on in the city. In 2011, there were 32,019 registered voters in the city, but only 5,693 people voted in the regular election.

In the 2009 At-Large Election, only 6,850 out of 32,952 voters cast their ballot.

All of the candidates are busy trying to get their message out. And judging from the imbalance of yard signs displayed in the area, some are more successful than others. But just because a candidate is good at hanging all of the bells and whistles on the campaign trail, it doesn’t mean they are the best choice for your vote.

Here is a quick, down-and-dirty way to size up the candidates. It’s very much like plotting your fantasy football team.

  1. First, start with an online search. See how many times they show up on the internet and why they are receiving the coverage. Take it all into consideration. Good, bad, or indifferent---mark down the things that you like and the things that you don’t like. Then ask yourself if the press they receive leaves a good or bad taste in your mouth.
  2. Look at their financial documents. It can be found here at the city website (hint: click on the names of each candidate and it will take you to their pages where contributions are listed): 

  1. See who is contributing to each campaign. Don’t be fooled by the look of a lot of voter contributions. Because of the campaign limits, you will sometimes get several donations from one household. The last local election I covered, there were over 20 different corporate donations all from the same P.O. Box in Manatee County. Take stock in the names. Patterns are everywhere.
  2. Take notice on how the candidates spend their money. Are they using local vendors? If they are a candidate for the people of Sarasota, shouldn’t they support local businesses as well? And are the prices they pay at fair market value, or do a lot of favors seem to be exchanged?
  3. You should also take notice of who is working on each campaign. Who the candidates are affiliated with is just as important as the message that they are trying to get out. There are several candidates who are using the same support people, which is rather odd when they are all vying for the same seat. The devil is in the details.
  4. Listen to the candidates. Every candidate sounds good to someone. But what is it that they are really saying? Most candidates pander to the people who they think are listening. So my suggestion is to not just listen, but also engage. Each candidate can offer you a way to talk with them.  Whether it is in person or by way of email, take a moment and ask the same questions of each candidate. Compare their responses. See how they respond to you.
  5. Also listen to how they respond to others. I have made it easy for you by interviewing all of the candidates and putting them on a podcast. You can find it here:
  6. Track their appearances. See which candidates appear at the forums and which candidates don’t. Then ask yourself if there was an ulterior motive for the “no-show.” It’s not enough to offer the excuse of a “previous engagement.”  Every candidate is selective and calculates their every move. It all matters.

Here is a list of the schedule of all local forums:

Feb. 6, 5:30 p.m. - "Mixer" at the HuB

Feb. 7, 11:30 a.m. - Sarasota Tiger Bay at Michael's on East

Feb. 16, 10 a.m. - Lido Homeowner's Assn. at the Lido Holiday Inn

Feb. 19, 7 p.m. - Arlington Park at the Waldemere Fire Station

Feb. 20, 4 p.m. - Sarasota Bay Club

Feb. 23, 10 a.m. - Glen Oaks

Feb. 25, 5:30 p.m. - North Trail Association at the Roskamp Center

Feb. 25, 7 p.m. - Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) Forum at the Sarasota Garden Club

Feb. 25, TBA - Newtown Action Committee

Feb. 26, 5-7 p.m. - "Pizza with Pete!" at Ringling Pizza (Ringling at Lime)

March 6, 6 p.m. - Sarasota Republican Club at Sarasota Yacht Club

March 7, 7:45 p.m. - Plymouth Harbor Forum

Your vote matters in this city election. In the last election, 14 people decided the election of Commissioner Paul Caragiulo over incumbent Richard Clapp. With only 17.78 % of the city residents voting in the last election, and issues of density, the noise ordinance and the city budget at stake … it’s time to become more involved.

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