In the Sarasota County School Board race for District 2, incumbent Caroline Zucker has raised more than three times the $9,700 in fundraising she recorded during her 2012 campaign.
But her challenger, political newcomer Teresa Mast, has nearly caught up with a total of more than $30,000 in just the first three months of finance reports. The nonpartisan race, which has divided local Republican donors and the development community, will likely attract even more campaign dollars until the Aug. 30 election day.
“The challenge is is that when you have the size of area we cover — when you’re countywide — your budget goes up significantly,” Mast said. “Anyone who is well-informed going into a race understands that’s vitally important.”
During the 2014 election, in which the District 1 seat was contested, current School Board Member Bridget Ziegler defeated former school administrator Ken Marsh. Both candidates raised more than $50,000.
“I really think its going to take $50,000 to win this race,” said Zucker, who has raised more than $40,000 in elections before that. “So I have to go back and get to work.”
Eric Robinson, a local CPA and former chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, won the race for District 3 without opposition after raising more than $90,000.
Mast has drawn support from high-profile donors, including $1,000 from former GOP Chairman Bob Waechter and $2,000 from U.S. Senate candidate and local homebuilder Carlos Beruff. The former Sarasota County government employee and small business owner has raised $30,420, of which about 20% came from individuals or companies associated with land development or construction.
During a Tiger Bay Club meeting last month, in which impact fees were discussed, Mast said she was unfairly singled out for receiving funds from the development industry. Though she did not say whether she thinks the assessments on new construction should reduced, she said she would like to see more recent data used in studies regarding the fees.
“Impact fees need to be measurable,” Mast said.
As for Zucker, Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has funneled more than $3,000 into her campaign coffers, while a firm associated with Thomas Ranch developer Mattamy Homes provided another $200. More than 30% of her contributions came from donors or firms with connections to the construction and development industry, despite the fact that in 2015 Zucker was the deciding vote to reinstate impact fees.
“I just don’t know where the homebuilders stand,” Zucker said. “The builders who build schools and large office buildings are the ones supporting me, because they know this growth is coming.
Still, Mast’s husband, Jon Mast, serves as CEO of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, which has generally opposed impact fees in both counties.
Zucker has spent much of her campaign cash on video production, while Mast has hired GOP strategist Kelly Dowd as a consultant for her campaign.
Zucker has the support of county constitutional officers Sheriff Tom Knight, Property Appraiser Bill Furst and Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Rushing, along with two school board members. But Mast reports endorsements from State Sen. Nancy Detert, who will soon serve on the County Commission, as well as state representatives Greg Steube and Jim Boyd.
“Although I respect the school board members currently on there immensely, they have a clear favorite and have not been overly friendly,” Mast said.