Meet this year’s City Commission candidates

Welcome to the Thunderdome!

The field is officially set for the Sarasota City Commission race this spring.

Eight candidates enter, two commissioners leave.**

The lineup includes one incumbent, a former mayor, a pair of neighborhood leaders, city critics and a few outsiders looking to bring a fresh perspective to City Hall.

At stake: The opportunity to be on the dais for the ongoing showdown between critics of booming downtown development and nearby residents arguing for stricter controls, plus all the side effects that come along with it like traffic congestion and pressure for more affordable housing.

Unsurprisingly, homelessness in Sarasota also will be a marquee issue and each of the candidates already addressed it at least in part in their campaign announcements over the past few months.

Here’s a look at the candidates, in alphabetical order:

  • Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, former Planning Board member and Tahiti Park Neighborhood Association president. She is one of the leaders of STOP!, a group of advocates for stricter development controls and public hearings to approve downtown projects.
  • Fredd Atkins, the city’s first black mayor and long-time leader who has served on the commission for 18 of the past 32 years. He unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the County Commission in November.
  • Hagen Brody, a young attorney and former prosecutor in the 12th Judicial Circuit who has said his campaign cornerstone will be a plan to combat homelessness. Brody resigned from the prosecutor’s office April after the Herald-Tribune revealed he worked on cases with a suspended license.
  • Susan Chapman, the only incumbent running this year, has served on the commission since 2013 and remains its biggest development hawk. But Chapman’s tenure has been dogged by issues such as her recent comments about ambulances and the public meetings lawsuit against her, which she won last year but is now being appealed.
  • Patrick Gannon, a Planning Board member since May 2015 and current president of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association. Earlier this month the commission endorsed his plan to increase tree mitigation for new developments.
  • Martin Hyde, who filed to run months ahead of any other candidates in September and is on pace to pump a record amount of cash into his campaign. He’s gained wide exposure by paying to have videos of his recent public comments to the commission pop up in local residents’ Facebook feeds and has repeatedly singled out and criticized Chapman.
  • Mikael Sandstrom, a young executive with his parents’ company, which owns Olivia Boutique on St. Armand’s Circle. He has never run for elected office and plans to push ideas about pedestrian safety and environmental projects such as pedestrian bridges over U.S. 41 or a local solar-energy program.
  • Matt Sperling, a lifelong Sarasota resident and outspoken critic of current and past commissioners. He has pledged to run a “controversial” campaign, including unconventional ideas about sending area homeless to other cities and building a massive affordable housing project at the Bobby Jones Golf Club.

The candidates will vie for the commission’s two at-large seats, which effectively represent the entire city instead of particular districts, on March 14. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes cast in March, a runoff election among the three candidates with the most votes will be held May 9.

If one candidate receives a majority in March, that person will be elected to one of the available seats. The candidates with the second- and third-highest vote totals would then be placed on a runoff ballot on May 9 to fill the remaining at-large seat.

The deadline to register to vote in the municipal election is 5 p.m. Feb. 13. The deadline to register to vote for the runoff, if necessary, would be 5 p.m. April 10.

**DISCLAIMER: Unravel’s editorial staff admits it mixed pop culture references with the Brady Bunch-style image and the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome references, but really they were both too good to pass up. The staff hereby apologizes for the cultural whiplash and shrugs its collective shoulders.

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