Two city commission veterans and a political newcomer have advanced in primary races for two Sarasota County Commission seats up for grabs in this fall’s general election.
In the District 2 race, former Sarasota City Commissioner and Mayor Fredd Atkins, with 35.24% of the vote, edged out two other candidates — City Commissioner Hagen Brody and Mike Cosentino — for the Democrat nomination. Brody got 34.20% and Cosentino 30.57% of a total of 10,557 votes cast.
Atkins will face Republican nominee Mike Smith in the general election Nov. 8. With 57.74% of the vote, Smith handily defeated Lourdes Ramirez at 42.26%.
In the District 4 Republican primary, former Venice City Commissioner Joseph Neunder, with 73.32% of the vote, easily defeated Mark Hawkins. Neunder will face Democrat Daniel Kuether, who was unopposed in the primary, in the general election.
While all candidates sounded the clarion call for more affordable and attainable housing, Smith, an architect, said the election results suggest his messaging on the subject resonated the most among the voters.
He received the endorsement of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange.
“Because I'm an architect, we tackle problems and we find solutions,” Smith said. “As contractors, I'm going to need your help because you're the guys and gals who build these things. We have told folks in the development community that this is a big priority, and I believe we're all on the same page that we've got to find a solution. It can't be just government. The solution is gonna be all of us working together.”
Neunder, who served two-and-a-half years as a Venice city commissioner before resigning to run for the county board, said he wants to help create a Sarasota County where his three children can afford to live and work. Affordable housing solutions are on top of his priority list, along with public safety and gulf water quality.
“I just I love my home,” said Neunder, a chiropractor. “I'm originally from Buffalo, but I grew up here. I just I love the home I grew up in. I had an excellent childhood and I have three boys I want them to experience what I had. I feel very blessed and having existing relationships and building on those and making new relationships,” Neunder said. “In my opinion, is the best county in the state of Florida live, work and play. And I just want to keep that in perpetuity moving forward.”
Atkins said his issues were similar to those of his opponents, but the difference-maker was how he related to voters of District 4, which is largely the city of Sarasota, who feel disenfranchised by the County Commission.
"The bottom line is that the Republican community of Sarasota had allowed the Republican Party at the County Commission level to do whatever they liked whenever they liked, and it wasn't fair to anybody, Republicans and Democrats," Atkins said. "And that's what I changed. That's what we will change."
In the first races for their respective districts since voters approved single-member district voting in 2018, the candidates are vying to replace District 2 representative and Chairman Alan Maio, who has served his maximum of eight years, and Christian Ziegler, who after one four-year term did not seek reelection.