Sperling Fired Up in City Race



Editor's Note: This is the last in an eight-part weekly series profiling candidates for Sarasota City Commission.  

Perhaps no candidate running for Sarasota City Commission embodies the frustration of Matt Sperling, a retired Raymond James and Associates investment broker whose family has long-time roots in the city. He hates the burdens put on the city, and expresses extreme distaste with how City Hall has responded. At the start of his campaign, he quoted Network’s Howard Beale, saying he was mad at city leadership and he wasn’t going to take it anymore. Closer to election day, he’s been frustrated with media coverage, now asking interviews be done by email.

And if there’s frustration mixed into his message, it’s not because a lack of commitment to this community. The 59-year-old grew up hear, attending Southside Elementary and graduating from Sarasota High before going to Florida State to earn an economics degree and coming back to raise his kids here; both 28-year-old Ryan and 24-year-old Lauren were born at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Before retiring, he was a senior vice president of investments at Raymond James and Associates, specializing in municipal debt obligations.

Sperling, one of eight candidates seeking two at-large seats on the commission, envisions Bobby Jones Golf Club being transformed into affordable, walkable housing. “There is an executive nine-hole course that will not have 50 rounds on a perfect day like today,” he writes. “It is owned by the city. It is very close to railroad tracks which go from Payne Park past Robarts. Golf is even a worse business than newspapers.” So he would like the city to lease the land to a housing trust. Using no government capital, he says a housing issue could be tackled and free bus service could be provided to the hospital and downtown every five minutes. He also foresees creating a commuter bike trail and requiring just 1,000 parking spaces for 2,000 apartment units, discouraging reliance on cars.

Regardless of the homeless situation, Sperling remains frustrated the city has shouldered so much of a regional burden. “The City has allowed Resurrection House and 10th Street Salvation Army to operate non conforming to zoning laws under a special exception granted by the City Commission 24 years ago on a 3-2 vote,” he writes. “The exception is timed out after a year and the Sarasota County Commission and the cities of Longboat Key Venice and North Port will no doubt welcome these great organizations to do their work in their backyard.”

He sees ways to scale back certain city services (he suggests eliminating city departments as fast as possible) and sell off certain city assets at City Hall (Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota Auditorium, G. Wiz., et cetera) while hiring more police officers. “After the Water and Sewer Department, Planning, Inspection, sale of all city-owned properties to finally pay off $320-million pension deficit,” he says, “the police force will employ 75 percent of city employees vs. about 30 percent now.” 

A city-wide election is scheduled for March 14, with a runoff likely on May 9. Other candidates include: Tahiti Park neighborhood leader Jennifer Ahern-Koch; former Sarasota Mayor Fredd “Glossie” Atkins; former prosecutor Hagen Brody; incumbent City Commissioner Susan Chapman; Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association president Patrick Gannon; Gulf Business Systems owner Martin Hyde; and pedestrian safety advocate Mikael Sandstrom.

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