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Commission challengers question election mailer

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  • | 5:00 a.m. March 10, 2010
  • Longboat Key
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A mailer that registered voters began receiving last week urges Longboaters to vote for the re-election of Mayor Lee Rothenberg and Commissioners Hal Lenobel and Peter O’Connor.

The mailer, which also urges voters to read a February Longboat Key News editorial which supports them, came as a surprise to their challengers, because Lenobel has publicly stated that he is not actively campaigning.

Although the mailer specifically states that it was paid for and approved by Rothenberg and O’Connor, Lenobel’s name is included at the bottom of a statement that reads: “We are running for re-election to the Longboat Key Town Commission. We believe our experience, knowledge and years of service are valuable.
We are asking for your vote to permit us to continue to serve you.”

When contacted by The Longboat Observer, Lenobel said he still believes he is not campaigning, even though he says he gave permission to Rothenberg and O’Connor to use his name in the letter.

Lenobel, noted, however, that he did not read the letter before it was mailed.

“I am not actively campaigning and not soliciting any donations,” Lenobel said.

But Lenobel’s at-large opponent, Phillip Younger, disagrees.

“I see Hal’s decision to join with two other incumbents in a mass public mailing urging voters to re-elect all of them as an effort to maintain the status quo,” Younger said. “Although the town has a policy against slates of candidates, he has, by this action, clearly entered into a coalition, which appears quite similar.”

Rothenberg’s opponent, District 1 candidate Lynn Larson, agreed.

“It certainly appears by the mailer that there are three people running on a ticket, although it was only paid for and approved by two of them,” Larson said.

Town Clerk Trish Granger confirmed last year that candidates are not allowed to run as a ticket.

Younger also expressed frustration with Lenobel’s participation in the mailer and recent question-and-answer interviews.

“It has the undertones of campaigning under strictly controlled circumstances to avoid placing himself directly before the public, thereby denying our residents the opportunity to weigh his positions on current issues and on his ability to continue to serve our town adequately,” Younger said. “It’s like I am running against a ghost.”

O’Connor and Rothenberg denied the claims by their challengers that they are running as a ticket.

When asked if he were running as part of a slate with Rothenberg and Lenobel, O’Connor said “absolutely not.”

“There is no confluence of the campaigns at all,” O’Connor said. “If there was anything that put us all together, it was the newspapers on this island that made it appear that way in their editorials.”

O’Connor said the purpose of the mailer was only to forward the editorial to those who hadn’t read it.

Rothenberg agreed.

“We are not a slate,” Rothenberg said. “But each of us is an incumbent, so it doesn’t seem unusual we would have strong views about the election.”

It’s not the first time claims of a campaign ticket, or slate, have surfaced.

Both Larson and Younger, along with O’Connor’s District 3 challenger, David Brenner, have been accused of running together on a platform of pro-development (see sidebar).

Said Younger: “Pro-development is a code word in this campaign that allows voters to think we unequivocally support the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s project. That’s a bold accusation.”

On the contrary, Younger said he has maintained that he is not part of any coalition and is running his own campaign.

Larson and Brenner also said they are running independent campaigns and are not a part of a slate.

Brenner, meanwhile, said he is so busy with his campaign that he declined to comment about the mailer and the insinuations that he is part of an overgrowth ticket.

“I have no concern for what the sitting commissioners are doing,” Brenner said. “My campaign is going so well right now, that to get diverted by what they are doing seems silly.”

In an e-mail sent to some Longboat Key residents dated Feb. 26, L’Ambiance resident and Islandside Property Owners Coalition President Bob White stated, “If the pro-development slate headed by David Brenner gets elected, we can expect a move away from our historic vision and toward a more commercial and tourist-oriented community. Your vote is needed for Lee Rothenberg, Peter O’Connor and Hal Lenobel!”

At-large candidate Phill Younger responded to White in an e-mail: “I have steadfastly and openly stated that I am not part of any coalition. However, it now appears that you and IPOC, and possibly some incumbents, have bought into this spiel. Speaking of coalitions, is it now possible to state that there clearly is a coalition, that of incumbents?”

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]


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