Alpert the new Sarasota mayor, while Ahearn-Koch to serve as vice mayor

Outgoing Mayor Battie presents keys to the city to Alpert and his father

Mayorr Liz Alpert. Image from her 2020 campaign website

By unanimous vote of the Sarasota City Commission this week, Vice Mayor Liz Alpert will enjoy another stint as mayor.

She has served on the board since May 2015, having won another term in 2020.

The new vice mayor is Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, who first was elected to the board in May 2017; she won re-election to her at-large seat in November 2022.

Both women were elected to the same leadership positions by their peers during a special City Commission meeting on May 11, 2018.

On Nov. 13, outgoing Mayor Kyle Battie nominated Alpert to succeed him. Then, following the vote, Alpert nominated Ahearn-Koch to be her successor. However, Commissioner Erik Arroyo — who was participating by telephone — put forth the name of Commissioner Debbie Trice, who won her seat on the board during the November 2022 General Election. “I know she hasn’t had one of these leadership roles, which is very, very important,” Arroyo said of Trice, “so I would like to nominate her. “

City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs first called for a vote on Ahearn-Koch. After all of the other commissioners raised their hands in a show of support for Ahearn-Koch, Arroyo added his vote, as well, so the decision would be unanimous.

“Hopefully, Commissioner Trice will be the vice mayor next year,” Alpert said.

Each year, in accord with provisions of the Sarasota City Charter, the members of the City Commission choose the new mayor and vice mayor from among themselves.

Prior to the Nov. 13 votes, Battie presented two keys to the city. One of those went to Alpert.

When Battie called her to the front of the dais in the Commission Chambers within City Hall, he explained, “She didn’t know this was going to happen. I kept it a secret.”

Then, with Alpert at his side, Battie told her, “I just want to say that it’s been an honor and a privilege and a joy and a blessing to serve alongside you. … You know, I remember once, it was like I hadn’t been on the commission long, and we were getting up from our seats and Liz looks at me, and she goes, ‘You know, Kyle, you’re doing a great job.’ I said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, Liz,’ ” he added. “She goes, ‘No, no. I mean, I wasn’t sure about you. We weren’t sure about you. We didn’t know what to expect.’ ”

Battie said he responded to her, “Don’t worry. Neither did I.”

Battie never had held political office before he was elected to the commission’s District 1 seat in November 2020.

The comments prompted laughter among their colleagues.

Then Battie explained that he wanted to recognize her as one of his last official actions as mayor. He read a proclamation that noted that Alpert moved back to Sarasota 20 years ago and “immediately got involved in any way she could, serving on the Human Relations Board [and] the city General Personnel Civil Service Board,” before she her initial election to the commission in May 2015.

The proclamation also pointed out that Alpert grew up as the oldest of eight children, and while neither of her parents attended college, “Liz was determined to earn her college degree and achieve her dream of becoming an attorney.”

Further, the proclamation noted that while she reared three daughters she took classes “off and on for more than 17 years” before graduating summa cum laudefrom the University of South Florida in 1995. She is a family law attorney with her own practice, the proclamation added.

Mayor Kyle Battie reads the proclamation to Vice Mayor Liz Alpert on Nov. 13 as City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs (second from right at the dais) and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch listen. News Leader image

“Whereas Liz Alpert has years of experience in so many areas of local government, and her community involvement speaks volumes to who she is as a person,” Battie continued to read, “it is truly an honor to serve by her side on this commission.”

After he presented her with the key to the city, Alpert responded, “I just want to say now this was a total shock to me.” She did acknowledge making the comments to him that he had related earlier. She added, “I have to tell you, I have not seen anybody work so hard to learn what the job [of mayor] was about, to learn about the issues of the city and really take it to heart.”

Alpert then told Battie, “I think you did a wonderful job as mayor, and I have been so pleased to serve beside you.”

Battie also presented a key to the city to his father, Henry Hank Battie, who — Kyle Battie pointed out — is a native of Sarasota and a graduate of Booker High School.

The proclamation he read about his father pointed out that Henry Hank Battie rose “from humble beginnings” as a stock boy at Taffy’s Menswear on St. Armands Circle and “defied the odds by ascending to the esteemed title [of] the first African American salesman out on St. Armands Circle.” Then, in 1990, Kyle Battie added, his father founded “the successful Cravats’ Custom Clothiers,” which originally was located in the Sarasota Quay on the city’s bayfront before it ended up in the Burns Court Historic District.

Henry Hank Battie also helped found the Newtown Little League baseball organization, his son continued, and he “played a key role in the establishment of the Sarasota Black Achievers, Big Brothers and Sisters, and the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota.”

Battie father and son hug after Mayor Kyle Battie finishes reading the proclamation. News Leader image

Kyle Battie did joke about how his dad had predicted that Kyle could not win a seat on the commission — a fact that Henry Hank Battie acknowledged before accepting the key to the city.

“Politics was never something I saw in him,” the elder Battie said. After Kyle decided to run, his father continued, “I was the first one to commit to his campaign and give him money for his campaign and also stood by him through all of it and still stand by him.”