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Larson, Pokoik: Win either way

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 20, 2010
  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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Three good candidates.

Incumbent Mayor Lee Rothenberg and challengers Lynn Larson and Lee Pokoik.

They are vying for the Longboat Key Town Commission District 1 seat because they want to protect and improve your quality of life.

The hard part is deciding which one would best serve you, the individual. Which one would act in the best interests of preserving and furthering your freedom?

There’s a difference. We’re not talking about the differences between the candidates. There’s a difference between acting on behalf of your freedom and on behalf of the state, the town.

Lee Rothenberg
To an extent, this District 1 preliminary election — the top two vote-getters will compete in the March general election — is a referendum on Lee Rothenberg’s performance, whether he should serve another two years.

As do many voters, we’re on the side of those who say Rothenberg has fulfilled the town’s term limits — “three consecutive terms” — even though he would have served five and a half years instead of a full six had he opted not to run this time. Nonetheless, Rothenberg has given much to Longboat Key and its residents over the past 15 years as a volunteer public servant. In addition to his Town Commission tenure, he served 10 years as a member of the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board; he was a member of a committee that shaped the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center; and he has served as the town’s representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

We don’t like to make age an issue here, but when you’re thinking about which candidate should shape town policy for your future on Longboat Key, Rothenberg is 84, Pokoik is 64 and Larson is 59.

True, there’s a lot to be said for the wisdom that comes from age and the experience of being involved with town government. And although commissioners individually only have one of seven votes, Rothenberg still can and should be judged on his voting record. This is where we part ways.

There’s Rothenberg the truly likable, dedicated public servant whose head and heart are in the right place. And then there’s his leadership and his record and position on issues.

Rothenberg’s Achilles heel is taxation. Each of the past two years, he has advocated raising the millage rate. Indeed, in 2008, he was one of the four commissioners who raised the millage rate. In 2007, he voted for the infamous $25,000 pay raise for Town Manager Bruce St. Denis. As mayor, he didn’t insist last year on a formal, public evaluation of the town manager.

In the midst of a period when everyone talked of keeping businesses and tourists on Longboat Key, Rothenberg and his colleagues responded by backing the expansion of the business tax to our resorts’ unit owners and marina slip owners.

And you could ask this about Rothenberg and all of the incumbents: Why weren’t they more proactive addressing the town’s growing pension liabilities? Likewise, in all of his years on the planning board and Town Commission, Rothenberg (nor any of his associates) never took the lead to address what Town Hall officials have known for a decade — that the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning codes are outmoded and need revising.

Had that occurred, the debate over the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed renovation and expansion likely would not be as convoluted, costly and contentious.

Rothenberg’s time has come — time to be retired.

It’s time for new blood, new thinking, new energy.

+ Lynn Larson
In Larson and Pokoik, Longboat taxpayers will get all of that, probably more with Pokoik.

Each is well qualified for the position, with different strengths. Who is chosen depends on your tastes.

In a historical context, Lynn Larson is closer to the Town Commission mold than Pokoik. Longboaters like their commissioners to be steady and understated in temperament. Some, of course, have healthy egos, but they don’t blast you with grandstanding and showboating. Longboaters don’t stand for that.
Conservative in demeanor covers what voters want and expect.

Larson fits. She was a nurse and later a state bureaucrat in Tallahassee, a division director in the Florida Department of Insurance. She has been an election official for the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections and currently serves on one of the town’s pension boards. These positions afforded her the experiences to know what it means to be a servant to patients and the public. She has the knowledge and temperament to deal with our own bureaucracies at the town, county and state levels.

Larson is on target when she says the Town Commission hasn’t been listening altogether well to town voters. She is eager to take on what commissioners haven’t — the town’s unfunded employee-pension systems. She recognizes the need for re-doing the town’s outmoded zoning codes and comprehensive plan. She supports a renovated and expanded Key Club; she knows that is essential to Longboat Key’s health, vitality and value.

We like that Larson, a registered Democrat, is a tax hawk, albeit not quite willing to take the Grover Norquist pledge of never voting to increase taxes during her term if elected. To her credit, she has the courage to say publicly she doesn’t think the Sarasota County one-mill school tax should be renewed.

And though a candidate’s gender should never determine the outcome of a political contest, that Larson is a woman is an advantage. Come on, let’s be honest. Yes, we want commissioners for their minds, character, judgment and wisdom. But there’s also a weakness in having seven balding, aging white males on the Town Commission. There’s a lot of truth to “Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus.” And never doubt a woman’s intuition. It would be healthy for Longboat’s Town Commission to be more than the proverbial “good ol’ boys” club.

+ Lee Pokoik
It’s difficult to imagine Lee Pokoik being a member of the “good ol’ boys” club. Pokoik isn’t woven from the Town Commission’s even-tempered cloth. He says what he thinks and is a man of bold action.

When told some Longboaters have characterized him as “a loose cannon,” Pokoik made no apologies. “I see it and tell it like it is,” he says. “If I have to embarrass (the other commissioners) to do the right thing, I will.”

There are no pretenses. Pokoik is a businessman/entrepreneur. More than that, for most of his career he has been a fearless businessman, unafraid to agitate and take unpopular positions for what he believes is right. In Fire Island, N.Y., the barrier island southeast of Long Island, Pokoik is legendary. Some there would say litigious is his first name.

Often described on Longboat Key as the retired owner of a successful New York real estate management company, Pokoik describes his career on Fire Island as a “fixer-upper of properties all my life.” At one time, his holdings in Fire Island and Ocean Beach consisted of four bars/nightclubs, a drug store and two hotels.

Pokoik fought for businesses in Ocean View, a barrier-island town whose codes make Longboat Key’s look ultra-liberal. In Ocean Beach, according to the New York Times, it is unlawful to eat any food, except pastries and ice cream cones, on the walkways; dock at the Ocean Beach dock; ride a bicycle in the village during the summer season; ride a bicycle without a bell in the off-season; or let your cat roam without a bell.
In 1984, two teen-agers were arrested for eating slices of pizza outside a restaurant.

Pokoik, once president of the Ocean Beach Chamber of Commerce, responded to this attitude by posting the following sign at one of his businesses:

“WARNING!!! This community has been subverted by the ‘new Communist Party,’ a group of pinko, liberal, socialist, phony homeowners intent on ruining good times here by eliminating every type of fun imaginable. You cannot even fart in this community without fear of violating their noise ordinance! Do not rent or buy here until these people are driven from the shore of Ocean Beach and it once again becomes the land of good times!!”

Says Pokoik: “It was a spoof.”

He sued Ocean Beach because the town refused to provide public bathrooms to day-trippers who enjoyed the beach. He fought for the bathrooms for 15 years, taking the suit to the New York Supreme Court. He won.

When residents of nearby Seaview tried to block Pokoik from buying the Seaview marina from a company that operated an adjacent ferry service, Pokoik responded. “They gave me such a hard time,” he says. For the 20 years he owned the marina, he would not accept any Seaview residents as customers. Around 2004, he sold the marina to the Seaview residents.

There’s a generous side to Pokoik: In 2006, he paid $35,000 at an auction for a trip to the 2007 Dubai World Cup horse race. The auction money benefited retired race horses that needed medical care. That’s just one example.

While Pokoik’s past business tactics (including being sued but dismissed of sexual harassment charges) may not read like the temperament of a typical Longboat Key commissioner, he clearly has the business sense and acumen that too often is missing on the commission dais. You don’t amass enough wealth to own race horses being a lousy entrepreneur.

Count on this, Pokoik would not give the town manager a pass on his performance evaluation. And cheers to Pokoik, he said at a candidates’ forum he would take the Grover Norquist pledge to vote against any tax increases.

We’re not behind Pokoik when he says the Key Club should be required to build its five-star hotel first or for his view that every commercial sign on the Key be uniform. But there’s an attractiveness to Pokoik as a commissioner. He would inject strong fiscal and management accountability and common business sense.

Certainly he’d make reporting on Town Commission meetings a “must-read” in The Longboat Observer.

As it usually is here, deciding which candidate is best is difficult. Larson or Pokoik? Longboat taxpayers can win with either. It depends on how and how much you want to rock the Town Commission and Town Hall. And surely you’d agree, they both need rocking.


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