Explaining Sarasota Candidates' Early Arrival

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY AUG 10, 2019

It remains unclear what results come from a decision by Sarasota city voters to move elections in November of even-numbered years. The entry of two candidates into a city race, though, may reveal the first significant shift.

Erik Arroyo, a former state House contender, and Daniel Clermont, a first time candidate, already filed to run for a District 3 seat on the Sarasota City Commission. The election won’t take place until next August at the soonest.

It’s not unheard of for candidates to jump into city races that far away, but the norm in Sarasota has been for campaigns to be confined within a few months of a vote. The fact multiple candidates want in, even without knowing if incumbent Shelli Freeland Eddie will stand for re-election, shows at the least a shift in strategy.

What’s driving this? The most obvious differences in political terrain—and there are several—come as consequences to Change The Date.

One change may simply be the appetite for a race. Elections used to happen in March and May, meaning under normal circumstances Sarasota would already have held an election this year.

In past election cycles, as soon as the general election wrapped, Sarasotans could count on the gossip machine starting anew on who might run for city posts. Both Under the old rules, Arroyo and Clermont should have jumped in much sooner, along with a number of other candidates. The three district commissioners would typically have seen their terms end by now. One can imagine these “early” candidates feeling as if they sat on their hands for months.

The most practical reason to file early, though, remains the ability to raise funds. Nobody has published a first treasurer’s report to date, but both Arroyo and Clermont can legally accept contributions now.

Notably, the single greatest fear opponents of Change The Date voiced last year was that city commission candidates now must run for office at the same time President Trump and a TBD Democrat blast the airwaves with presidential campaign propaganda. For a city commission candidate, it could require more resources to break through thay noise and get their messaging heard.

Then there is the fact this election may be determined by a different electorate and won by a new messaging strategy never employed before. Advocates of Change the Date believe that’s a good thing. I recently spoke with Christine Robinson of the Argus Foundation, who said the intent was never to change who wins city elections but what voters candidates listened to along on the way. A broader electorate will participate in the 2020 city elections than ever turned out in springtime. Voters who never cast a ballot in a city election will be in polling precincts next November.

For candidates, that’s an opportunity but also a tremendous unknown. What will move these voters to fill out their ballot all the way to the bottom?

I’ve already noticed candidates promoting water quality issues, as opposed to some of the city minutia than can dominate discourse in Sarasota. Maybe in a year of sewage spills following a summer of red tide, that’s inevitable. Or maybe it’s candidates intuitively sensing they need to speak to voters outside of those with hard copies of the 2020 Downtown Master Plan sitting in a secretary drawer at home.

The best question may not be why some candidates entered their race so early. It may be time to ask anyone else who wants to run why exactly they are waiting.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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