Sarasotans reject elected mayor proposal

03/11/09 Mitch E. Perry
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A measure to elect a mayor and expand the City Commission in Sarasota was easily defeated last night, despite the fact supporters of the measure outspent opponents by a prodigious amount.

Kelly Kirschner currently sits on the Sarasota City Commission, and was against the measure.

Currently, Sarasota city citizens elect a six-member Commission, and one of the commissioners is rotated annually to act as the sitting mayor.

The measure on the ballot last night would have eliminated the rotating mayor system, with citizens voting for a mayor, and the Commission then adding two new seats.

That aspect angered many in the black community of Sarasota, who claimed the bigger Commission would have further diluted their relevance at City Hall.

Kirschner says that he elected mayor aspect of the initiative drew the excitement and headlines, but there was a lot of opposition to the proposal for two new commissioners.

Susan Chapman is the chair of the Citizen’s Voice, a committee organized to oppose the charter amendment. She also said voters cared as much if not more about the addition of new commissioners as they did about an elected mayor.

Pro development and real estate interests were pushing the measure, as was the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

Chapman says even though this is the third time in the last 15 years that an elected mayor measure has failed, she won’t be surprised if it comes back again.

Also last night, City Commissioner Ken Shelin lost his bid for re-election, coming in fourth last night out of nine candidates. The top vote getter was former bank treasurer Terry Turner. But neither Turner nor the next two top vote getters, Paul Caraguilo and Suzanne Atwell, received a majority of the vote. Turner, Caraguilo and Atwell will compete for two Commission seats in a runoff next month.

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