Gov't, Business Leader Face Off for Manatee County Seat

Todays News


A long-serving Manatee County Administrator faces off with a long-time county businessman for an open Manatee County Commission seat. Ed Hunzeker and George Kruse face off in the Republican primary for the at-large District 7 seat in what is each man’s first political campaign. But neither counts themselves a stranger to the community.

Kruse, principal at Pursuit CRE, said his skillset working in commercial real estate will serve the county well should he win election. Knowledgeable of finance and the intricacies of the local land market, he wants to make sure the community remains somewhere professionals will stay because of a thriving job market. And he’d like to see the county take a different approach to where it guides planning.

“I’d like to encourage development closer to our existing infrastructure,” Kruse said. That can be done cribbing successful efforts in Sarasota and other places by incentivizing denser, smaller units by lifting parking and other requirements. He sees that as tremendous free market incentive to bring developers close to urban cores, noting a developer who can put two 500-square-foot properties that rent for $800 a month or who could put one 1,000-square-foot property that goes for $1,200 a month will pick the former every time. “All government has to do is get out of its own way.”

Hunzeker, who spent 12 years as Manatee County’s top government executive, said he’s anxious to get in a policy-making position after years of administration. Regarding planning, he notes the same basic comprehensive plan has governed Manatee County since 1988. “We haven’t done much to update it to the current environment,” he said. That means there’s guidance and management that may be doing more to hinder business than to spur responsible growth patterns. As a former county administrator, Hunzeker said he can hit the ground running and encourage action on fronts like this.

He's also got existing relationships in the worlds of Chambers of Commerce and economic development throughout the region. And having led county government through the Great Recession, he feels his background and intimate knowledge of the region will be especially valuable as Manatee County moves ahead after the COVID-19 pandemic. “Ever since the Recession we have talked about growth,” he said. “I think now the question ahs to be how do we sustain our community after the loss of jobs and the closing of businesses. I have a feeling it will look more like 2008 than it will look like 2019.”

As a successful business owner working decades in Manatee, Kruse said he’s got the perspective needed to lead the county into recovery, noting there’s county commissioners on the bad who served through Hunzeker’s entire reign as County Administrator. “I don’t inherently believe that government knows best,” Kruse said. He’s certainly questioned actions taken during the pandemic like a curfew, and more recently a mandate in Manatee County for wearing masks. He’d rather companies decide whether to require masks in their own businesses, and let consumers decide whether to shop in those establishments or elsewhere.

Hunzeker sees no problem with a mask mandate, noting government tells people to regulate their behavior all the time through speed limits, seat belt laws and any other number of measures. “I don’t know why we make wearing a mask into such an onerous thing when we are doing something to make sure people stay healthy,” he said. ”It’s so logical. But it’s been so politicized.”

The winner of the Aug. 18 Republican primary in Manatee County faces only a write-in candidate in the general election. The election will determine who succeeds retiring County Commissioner Betsy Benac.

Photos: Ed Hunzeker, George Kruse

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