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Republicans Club of Longboat Key has new leadership

After six years, the presidency of the club is changing hands.

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  • | 3:29 p.m. February 1, 2021
Scott Gray. File photo.
Scott Gray. File photo.
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After six years, the Republican Club of Longboat Key is under new leadership. President Scott Gray took over for longtime leader Joe McElmeel at a December club meeting. 

Gray, who has been part of the club for four years, takes over a thriving club with more than 300 members, the largest Republicans Club in Sarasota County. When McElmeel became president, it had just 18 members who met for lunch meetings at Portofino Ristorante & Bar. They had to buy 25 meals to secure the space, and if they couldn’t get 25 people, they’d donate the rest. McElmeel and his board quickly shook up the format and reach of the club to dinner meetings and off-island residents, and started getting more visitors. 

After getting involved with the club through his Longboat Key Club membership and friendship with McElmeel, Gray was “voluntold,” in McElmeel’s words, to become club president in 2020 when McElmeel decided to step down. He now hopes to be a successful “past president” and guide Gray as he settles into the role.

“Scott [Gray] is a talented individual as a leader … I want him to be extremely successful,” McElmeel said. “And even the previous board and myself, we'll do everything we possibly can to help him out.”

For the most part, Gray hopes to continue the formula for the club that brought members and success to McElmeel: a monthly social dinner featuring a speaker, educational opportunities for members and support for local candidates. Since 2019, they've had authors, Longboat Key town leaders such as town manager Tom Harmer and the police and fire chiefs, Mote Marine experts, red tide specialists, military members and local candidates speak at the dinners. 

“We're a social club, and we get together and enjoy our social times, we have fun at our meetings, we have fun with the dinners, and it's important that we educate ourselves and we become responsible voters,” Gray said. “But we get to have fun doing it, and I think it's a very important goal.”

The meetings are not always, or even often, political, and both Gray and McElmeel emphasized that the meetings are open to anybody who wants to come. McElmeel set a rule against making meetings contentious and instead made them more informative, and a pre-pandemic meeting with red tide expert Lenny Landau drew residents of all ideologies, he recalled.

Sometime in the future, Gray hopes to have someone from the COVID-19 wing at Sarasota Memorial Hospital speak to members. 

“I think educating our members on current events and hot topics is always an admirable goal for the club, regardless of who's running it,” Gray said. 

Paul Hylbert, Jane Hunter, Chris Sachs, Scott Gray and Bob Parish. File photo.
Paul Hylbert, Jane Hunter, Chris Sachs, Scott Gray and Bob Parish. File photo.

Though it may be difficult to grow the club during COVID-19, Gray hopes to keep new members coming and reach across the aisle with interesting and relevant local speakers. As the population of Florida and Sarasota itself grows, Gray just wants to be able to keep up. 

“I think it's important that we continue to reach out to the new residents, and try and get them to come join in with us,” Gray said. 




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