A Double Shot of Reality



In a nuanced, and sometimes perplexing, election year, many are left scratching their heads—what effect do our City Commissioners really have on our daily lives. Believe it or not, who we potentially elect to serve at that Commission table will very often have a much greater impact on the future of this region than any tweet or edict coming out of the Oval Office.

A case in point: two years ago along North Tamiami Trail, on a plot of land overgrown with weeds, which now sits a defunct Mexican restaurant, El Pescado, the development of a new Starbucks was proposed. What an excellent proposal for this commercially-zoned property! A 2-acre stretch of “The North Trail” would be revitalized with a 2,000 square foot café, complete with outdoor seating and sufficient surface parking. Local firms and trades people would benefit from the design and construction. Fifteen students of Ringling or New College or USF Sarasota-Manatee would have part-time jobs to pay for books and tuition. And the city would benefit from additional economic activity and an expanded tax base and perhaps inspire the badly needed capital investment along “The North Trail.”

What’s not to love! Right? 

Until along came current city commission candidate and nearby Tahiti Park resident Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, who, with a wave of her finger, canceled this opportunity. After one year of riding the “public input” merry-go- round of endless traffic studies, back-and- forth with FDOT, and conversations amongst city officials, current STOP! committee leader Koch and the property developer, Starbucks threw in the towel and moved on to a more welcoming city. The marginal addition of vehicular activity generated by a coffee shop was just too much to swallow. The land now lies dormant; “The North Trail” continues to languish; local companies missed out on work; and 15 college students are denied a part-time gig. Mission accomplished. With Koch, a theoretical Democrat, at the commission table and Tahiti Park just down the road, one can only imagine the reception the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization will receive when the rubber hits the pavement.

This is only one example of several of why I would argue the Sarasota County Democratic Party should more thoroughly vet candidates who come knocking on their door for money, endorsements and volunteer labor. Elections have real consequences. Party donors and volunteers deserve to know whether party-backed candidates do indeed have the progressive bona fides of a real advocate for working people who have bravely taken a chance on Sarasota. The scar is still visible two years later from the events surrounding Shelli Freeland Eddie, the Democratic Party, Equality Florida and Ruth’s List. Reality can bite, like a sugarless double shot from “The North Trail” Starbucks that never was. 

Gabriel Hament, Sarasota.

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