STOP Pushes Back, Parties Engage in City



The STOP Coalition on Wednesday formally demanded that a local Democratic activist retract accusations the group was improperly working to elect a one of the organization's steering committee members, Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, to the Sarasota City Commission. The same day, the Sarasota County Democratic Party seemingly rebuked the accusations as well, and voiced their own support for Ahearn-Koch and fellow Democrat Hagen Brody. The actions cap a busy political week where Republican leaders also released messaging attacking Ahearn-Koch and promoting Republican Martin Hyde.

Gabriel Hament says he no longer plans to file a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission alleging STOP violated the law with a mass email highlighting Ahearn-Koch as the only one of the three remaining Sarasota City Commission candidates to support a city-wide traffic study. “It is a moot point now since it has been revealed that they are operating as a 501(c)4,” Hament says. On Friday, Hament circulated a formal complaint against STOP, alleging the group should be registered instead under Florida law as an electioneering communications organization. Hament supports Brody in the commission race but is not working for any campaign.

Kate Lowman, a board member for STOP, labeled Hament’s accusations “libelous content” and said her group has operated as a nonprofit organization within the law. “There’s no actual case filed and a lot of what’s gone on has pretty much been a catfight in the press,” Lowman says. “We felt it was really important to say we don’t think it’s acceptable.”

Democrats announced yesterday that the party would actively help Ahearn-Koch’s and Brody’s campaigns. Party chair JoAnne DeVries says that includes assisting the campaigns separately with canvassing and by providing get-out-the-vote phone banking in the party’s office. “They have both proven themselves to be strong candidates with exceptional insight into the issues important to voters,” she says. She also issued a statement that the views of individual members should not be considered the position of the party. “Only SCDP officers and officially designated spokespersons are authorized to speak on behalf of our party and its leadership,” she says.

Hament maintains he supports only Brody because of Ahearn-Koch's views on issues like workforce housing and economic stimulation in north Sarasota remain insufficiently progressive. 

Earlier this week, Republican leaders also went social media this week with pro-Hyde and anti-Ahearn-Koch messaging surrounding the Democrat’s immigration views. 

The three candidates for Sarasota City Commission are seeking two seats on the board. The nonpartisan election will be held May 9. 

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