Moran, Pienkos Tangle in Sarasota County District Race

Todays News


Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran was upset to learn Democratic opponent Mark Pienkos accepted donations above the $200 limit, but also startled that the Florida Democratic Party would try and donate $6,000 to a district campaign.

“I go to great lengths to stay out of other jurisdictions,” he said. “I make a big point constantly that I don’t get involved and state stuff and expect that they don’t get involved in my stuff. But it’s crystal clear how the rules work."

Pienkos, who said he understood political parties were excempt from a county charter cap, has gone ahead and returned money donated by the state party above that amount “in the spirit of transparency.” He’s done the same regarding donations from the county party, which had donated $1,500 for his campaign.

But Pienkos scoffs at the notion Moran has been the pinnacle of public service. The Democrat was drawn into the race over the decision by the county to redistrict a year before completion of the Census. In the process, two individuals who planned to run against the GOP incumbent were no longer eligible, and the district became markedly more Republican-friendly. PIenkos said the whole process was conducted in a “nefarious manner.”

“The gerrymandering decision disenfranchised 8,000 voters in Newtown,” he said. “That was my main reason to be in the race. But I’m concerned about the future of Sarasota County.”

He listed a series of decisions by Moran that he believes threaten the environment, including supporting a recycling plant near Celery Fields that ultimately was not approved by a majority of the commission. Pienkos said for his part, he wants to see greater preservation of character for rural areas like Old Myakka. “Keep the country country,” he said.

Moran defended the decision to redistrict, something done in response to a charter change moving to single-member districts. Even now, Moran said he sees voters turning in their ballots at county offices who feel confused why they can’t vote in the District 1 race, and didn’t realize the change meant every voter can only vote for one county commission candidate every four years. Regardless, he said commissioners had an obligation to redistrict to balance populations.

“I would agree it was politically motivated — by the Democratic Party bringing about single-member districts,” he said. “Once it was voted on, we did exactly what we were directed to do by the charter.”

As for growth, Moran said he’s always favored dense development at the city core, transitioning to rural densities.

As Moran makes the case he deserves another four years in office, he said county’s financial resiliency in the pandemic should be noted. He has pushed for the county to keep healthy reserves the last four years, and pressed hard for economic development to focus its energy on specific industries that diversify the economy to be more recession-proof. When the pandemic hit, the county maintained high bond ratings, and could direct resources to help businesses while other counties struggle fiscally.

But Pienkos said Moran has not been focused on communicating with his own constituents over the last four years. “I’m focused on what people are telling me are their priorities, on the environment, on overbuilding, on gerrymandering,” he said. “They want their commissioner to listen to them.”

Voters in Sarasota County District 1 vote on Nov. 3.



Photo: Mike Moran, Mark Pienkos

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