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Sarasota City Commission candidates raise thousands in March

Jen Ahearn-Koch topped campaign fundraising last month with more than $11,000 in contributions.

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  • | 1:30 p.m. April 11, 2017
Jen Ahearn-Koch, Hagen Brody and Martin Hyde are vying for two seats on the Sarasota City Commission.
Jen Ahearn-Koch, Hagen Brody and Martin Hyde are vying for two seats on the Sarasota City Commission.
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As of April 1, the three candidates for two seats on the Sarasota City Commission have raised a combined $128,000 — 62% more than those vying in the last at-large election around the same period in 2013 and $4,000 more than that group raised overall.

Jen Ahearn-Koch, the top vote-getter in the first City Commission election March 14, topped last month’s fundraising totals with more than $11,000 from 79 contributions. The neighborhood leader said she thinks her approach to local issues — particularly criticism of the quality of recent downtown development — is driving that.

“It’s a great to have a lot of energy that boosts you as you go through the last leg of this campaign,” said Ahearn-Koch, who has drawn $31,617 in donations since entering the race.

Hagen Brody, who finished second in the first election, has also raised more than $30,000 in total, recording $7,720 in contributions last month. 

“I’m not a wealthy man so, I’m grateful for the broad support that our campaign has received over the last few months,” Brody wrote in an email.

But Martin Hyde, who loaned himself $6,000 to bring March contributions to just less than $10,000, remains the leader in campaign finance and spending by at least two times over Ahearn-Koch and Brody. More than 80% of the $66,300 he has raised has come from personal contributions or loans, according to city election documents.

“For me, I don’t know whether I’d have had a prayer if I hadn’t spent very heavily at the outset,” said Hyde, noting that candidates who have outspent their opponents have lost in previous elections. “The moral of the story is that no, you can’t buy an election, but I think it’s naive to think without name recognition you have a big chance.”

In March, Ahearn-Koch received donations from four members of the steering committee of STOP!, North Trail business owners, as well as downtown condominium owners and former mayors. Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board Chairwoman B.J. Bishop contributed $200 to her election campaign.

“From my end, people are being very very supportive whenever I reach out to them, which is great,” Ahearn-Koch said.

Brody, an attorney, received wide support from local lawyers and downtown business leaders, including commercial real estate broker Ian Black, land use attorney Morgan Bentley and entrepreneur Jesse Biter. Former City and County Commissioner Nora Patterson also contributed to his campaign.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have the support from a wide range of folks in Sarasota,” Brody said. “It’s really encouraging that people have reached out and want to see this campaign succeed.”

Hyde contends that the large amount of personal spending on his campaign means he isn’t beholden to special interests. 

“I literally put my money with my mouth is,” he said. “I’m not poor, but I’m not super rich, and it’s a significant amount.”

Ahearn-Koch, Brody and Hyde will meet for a debate hosted by the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club at 11:30 a.m. Monday, April 17, at Michael’s on East. The election is scheduled for May 9.


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