Forum Fumble

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY APR 22, 2017

Politics has a real power to turn personal slight into a level of scandal, as happened at an Arlington Park Neighborhood Association meeting this week. Apparently, the association held a meeting where members could meet all remaining candidates for the Sarasota City Commission, but one candidate never got an invitation. How that happened depends who you ask.

Candidate Martin Hyde says he never got an invitation, and his email has been well publicized both by his own team and by City Hall, which has published candidate information online.  Nathan Wilson, president of the APN, says he sent out an email, but inadvertently sent to a business address for Hyde, the last address from which Wilson received an email from Hyde. Hyde suggests sending an email to a business address at the start of a long weekend doesn’t count as very much notice, and besides, his business never got the email anyhow. “It’s small town politics,” says Hyde, who notes Wilson has signs in his yard promoting Jennifer Ahearn-Koch and Hagen Brody, the other candidates in the race.

Wilson says no slight against Hyde was intended. “I'll take the blame for not following through,” he says, but maintains an email went out. Regardless, Wilson has apologized for the oversight, and Hyde, who was notified mid-meeting by a supporter who was present, did show up mid-meeting and was granted an opportunity to speak.

The event actually came about following a request from Brody, who has asked neighborhood associations throughout the city for the chance to meet with members. In Arlington Park, the association responded saying that was fine, but that all candidates would be invited to make their own case to voters. “From my perspective, that’s what happened,” Brody says. Ahearn-Koch also got the email and attended.

Of course, the candidates all have countless engagements in the lead-up up to the May 9 election. Ahearn-Koch, Brody and Hyde are running for two at-large spots on the commission, with the top two vote-getters earning seats. A little more than 900 votes separated the candidates in a March 14 first election, so the chance to interact with any groups of voters creates opportunity for campaigning.

Even then, candidates can’t always make every event. Ahearn-Koch this week missed an American Institute of Architects forum because of a conflict. Hyde supporters suggest, though, that Hyde gets intentionally left out of some neighborhood forums.

“But,” he notes, “these actions don’t always have the desired effect, do they?” He says many at Arlington Park spoke to him after the event, and thinks any effort to silence him may backfire. Of course, even if some organizations don’t invite Hyde to events, which would be an act of bad taste, it also might show a distaste for him among certain community leaders.

The bigger question may be what gets achieved at these forums in the first place. The Arlington Park event had 35 or 40 people there, according to Wilson. That’s pretty good attendance for a neighborhood meeting, but nearly 7,200 voters cast ballots in March.

Ahearn-Koch says the forums provide a chance for candidates to hear from voters. “You better understand important issues that maybe you were familiar with but this pushes you to look deeper into them,” she says. Brody says neighborhood associations need to be heard by candidates, and Hyde says he relishes any chance to get in front of voters to promote his platform.

I still wonder if these events do as much good for campaigns as going door-to-door reaching out directly to voters. But as long as these happen, candidates will clamor for the chance to go.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor of SRQ Media Group.

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