Contractor Hawkins Runs on Workforce Housing

Todays News

A vote to retain single-member district voting heartened Mark Hawkins. “The people of Sarasota County won one,” he said, “and we need to win.”

He hopes as Sarasota County District 4 voters elect a commissioner in a district election this fall for the first time in decades, they will view Hawkins as their voice. The Republican candidate brings an agenda on building affordable housing, reducing pollution in waterways and cutting taxes.

It’s the second time Hawkins has run for a seat on the board, but plenty has changed besides the way commissioners win election. He ran in 2010 against incumbent then-County Commissioner Nora Patterson as a Democrat. A child of union members from the Midwest, he said he never questioned being a Democrat but he quickly realized over the course of the campaign his core views aligned more with Republicans, and he changed his registration shortly afterward.

He points to a list of successful political leaders including Patterson, former County Commissioner Carolyn Mason and former state Sen. Pat Neal who shifted registration from Democrat to Republican over the course of decades. “If people want to point their finger at me and say you were a Democrat at one point in your life, I think that’s kind of weak,” he said.

Now running in a heavily GOP district, he hopes voters care more about his commitment to the region. He moved here 62 years ago, at age 8, and made a career as a contractor in a competitive climate. 

That gives him an understanding of construction, a field closely tied to the work of the county commission. That gives him an understanding of a long-ignored issue that seems to arise only as a campaign talking point: workforce housing. Hawkins said the county owns plenty of unused parcels of land that could be used for low-cost housing if the county were willing to give itself the same sort of density increases it gives private developers all the time.

He notes a project approved at the corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, where housing will be developed at about twice a previously allowed level. But that will be high-cost housing brought online while the real estate market sees values rising. Why not consider the same type of maximization of value on land the county fully controls and build townhouse developments affordable to families making $35,000 or $40,000 a year?

“We can make this difficult but we don’t have to,” he said.

He also said the county can reduce its own negative impact of the environment, such as wastewater emission at Phillippi Creek. Infrastructure improvements and septic conversions in the region have been a long priority of the county.

Hawkins has put $20,000 out of pocket into a campaign account, on top of $3,770 raised from outside donors. He faces Joseph Neunder in a Republican primary, and Neunder has raised $113,695. But he hopes voters in District 4 will be eager this year to hear his message. The primary will be held on Aug. 23.

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