School Contests Have Razor-Thin Margins

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The contests for School Board in Sarasota and Manatee proved some of the most dramatic battles on the Gulf Coast during Tuesday’s primary election, with several races coming down to fewer than 1,100 votes. Voters ultimately re-elected all three incumbents on the ballot for Sarasota County School Board, though two of those races came down to razor-thin margins. Meanwhile, Manatee voters sent one board member packing and the other into an underdog position in a November runoff, re-electing just one incumbent.

The Sarasota County School Board for the past few years has been sharply divided—and that won’t change soon. “It kind of left us the way we were,” says School Board Member Shirley Brown. She won re-election narrowly, claiming 46,065 votes to challenger Karen Rose’s 45,262 in the District 4 contest.

Meanwhile, School Board chair Bridget Ziegler also survived a squeaker, getting 46,597 votes to challenger Nick Guy’s 45,508. “I’m very encouraged to be able to continue,” she says. “I stood strong on the platform I originally ran on in 2014.”

Ziegler had campaigned frequently alongside Rose, and the two were supported by the Republican Party. Guy and Brown likewise were politically aligned and backed by Democrats. Brown remains frustrated that the teacher’s union ended up spending in the neighborhood of $100,000 against her and feels efforts instead should have gone against Ziegler, a prominent figure with the Florida Coalition of School Board Members.

The election seems to get closer after Republicans delivered high turnout on Tuesday, closing a gap Democrats enjoyed following early and absentee voting.

On the Sarasota Board, only incumbent Jane Goodwin avoided a close contest. She avoided a runoff by capturing more than 50 percent of the vote in a four-person race. Goodwin got 46,739 votes to Pamela Gavette's 19,521, Richard Linden's 11,639 and Juston Cody Willis' 9,920.

In Manatee County, former Democratic Congressional candidate James Golden ousted John Colon, a School Board member originally appointed to a vacancy by Republican Gov. Rick Scott. “Voters thought I would be better able to move forward than the person that has been in the chair,” says Golden, who took 13,500 votes compared to 12,511 for Colon. “The most important thing to me is returning to some level of civility and professionalism.”

School Board Chair Scott Hopes, another Scott appointee, came in second in a four-man race for his seat, but will advance to a runoff against top vote-getter Joe Stokes. In the District 4 race, Stokes got 9,363 votes, Hopes 7,790, Richard Murphy 5,110 and Jim Daniel 4,085.

But Incumbent Charlie Kennedy won re-election, taking 14,286 votes to Alice Kaddatz’s 12,345 in the District 2 race.

Pictured: Shirley Brown, Bridget Ziegler, James Golden

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