Bradenton Council Race Marked by Accusations



A Bradenton City Council race has devolved into accusations of police abuse and complaints about residency as voters prepare to weigh in.

Incumbent Bemis Smith hopes voters feel happy with the developments in Bradenton from the Riverwalk to rejuvenation of the city core. But the social media noise, accompanied with reports to the police, has largely drowned out conversations about city planning.

Sanders says a “good ole boy” political network protects Smith from proper legal scrutiny. “I’ve never seen this sort of protection of a city council position in my life,” Sanders says.

Smith concedes that at one point, he posted an internet meme that pictured Bill Sanders’ mobile home and raised questions about his residency. The meme noted that Sanders had tax bills sent to Iowa and registered the vehicle after the required residency date to hold office in Bradenton. The final line of the meme read, “Moving to town so recently that you run your campaign from a motorhome… Priceless.”

“It’s kind of funny,” Smith says. “On my part, it’s not been heated.”

But the fact the meme included hard figures, though not the exact ones for Sanders’ vehicle, led Sanders to believe Smith illegally accessed vehicle registration information on the mobile home to use in service of his political campaign. He reported that to police. Smith says when he heard that, he went to the police himself to make clear he’d done no such thing.

More reports would follow, after supporters of Smith got into arguments with members of Sanders’ family online. But nothing thus far has risen to the level of an arrest.

Sanders said he feels like he’s running against the majority of officials at City Hall at this point. “At the first debate, these other two councilmen showed up and stared me down like I was the devil,” he says. “Now it feels like I’m running against Gene Gallo and Gene Brown and whoever else has control at the city.”

Sanders feels his complaints to authorities have not been taken seriously. As for the reason he only recently registered his mobile home in Florida, he says he owns 10 vehicles, and he can show he’s lived in Bradenton. “I’ve got an email where I talk to the city about a streetlight from back in January,” he says. ”There is corruption inside that City Council.”

Regardless of email chains, Smith notes Sanders voted in Iowa in 2016 and claims a homestead there. But no matter what, Smith hopes his decades of commitment to Bradenton stand out for voters. “What’s he done over the last 40 years?“ Smith says. “But what I’d like to know is what are you going to do better or differently that me? How and why are you going to do that? My resume speaks for itself.”

Smith has raised $16,512 for his campaign. Sanders has self-financed with $11,505 of his own money. The election will be held on Nov. 6.

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