Neunder far ahead of Hawkins in campaign finance contributions in District 4 race
Early this week, a candidate had yet to file for the Sarasota County Commission District 2 seat, held by Commissioner Christian Ziegler of Sarasota. That changed on Wednesday, The Sarasota News Leader learned.
Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody figuratively has thrown his hat in the ring, as noted on the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office website. He filed as a Democrat.
He won election to the City Commission in 2017.
While Ziegler has indicated during board discussions that he plans to run for a second term, he may be awaiting the outcome of a special county referendum on March 8.
In November 2021, Ziegler cast the only “No” vote when his colleagues approved a map with new districts reflecting changes in population — in response to the results of the 2020 Census. That map, created by Tallahassee consulting firm Kurt Spitzer & Associates, kept intact what members of the public noted in November 2019 was a Democratic voter majority in District 2.
All of the county commissioners are registered as Republicans.
Prior to the November 2019 vote, members of the public had maintained that District 1 was reconfigured to contain a majority of Republican voters, to help incumbent Commissioner Michael Moran win re-election in 2020. After Moran secured that seat for the second time, some community activists talked of their expectation that the commissioners would readjust the district lines in 2021 in an effort to help Ziegler’s re-election prospects. Yet, that was not the case.
Following the Nov. 15, 2021 public hearing, Ziegler immediately made a motion to approve a map submitted to county staff by Sarasota attorney Brian Goodrich, which would have switched Districts 1 and 2, leaving the Democratic voting majority in District 1.
During his comments, Ziegler remarked that he had heard that Democratic candidates already were being recruited for the District 2 race this year.
The primary focus of those rumors was Brody, as Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck, president of the nonprofit organization Control Growth Now, noted in public meetings last year.
As for the March 8 issue: The county commissioners also voted on Nov. 15, 2021 to direct the Office of the County Attorney to begin work on a referendum in an effort to repeal the Single-Member Districts voting system that won almost 60% of voters’ endorsement during the November 2018 General Election. The board members have maintained that Single-Member Districts is “bad governance,” as several of them have described it.
Chair Alan Maio and Commissioner Michael Moran also have talked of the fact that voters did not understand how the system would work.
Under the Single-Member Districts election method, a citizen may vote only for a candidate living in the same district as the citizen. Previously — except for a two-year period in the early 1990s — all commissioners were elected countywide.
If the majority of voters on March 8 cast ballots to remove the Single-Member Districts system from the Sarasota County Charter, candidates for the District 2 once again could rely on citizens across the county voting for them.
Two Republicans file for District 4 seat
Two candidates have filed for the other commission seat that will be on the November General Election ballot. Chair Maio is term-limited, having won the District 4 seat in 2014 and 2018.
Republicans Mark Hawkins of Sarasota, who owns his own company — Hawk’s Nest Construction; and Joseph Neunder, a Venice chiropractor, filed last year for that seat.
Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office records indicate that Hawkins submitted his formal paperwork in early February 2021. Neunder’s formal statement of candidacy is dated April 23, 2021.
Neunder was elected to the Venice City Council in 2019. He previously served on the county’s Planning Commission, which is considered the county’s most influential advisory board. The Planning Commission conducts public hearings on land-use applications and then makes its recommendations on them to the County Commission.
Hawkins has been a past candidate for County Commission, including the race in 2018 for the District 4 seat. He previously was elected to the Charter Review Board, and he served on the Planning Commission, as well. In announcing his latest campaign, he told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he would not accept donations from developers or political action committees.
Neunder far ahead of Hawkins in terms of campaign financial support
As of the most recent filings of financial forms for the District 4 race, the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office records show Neunder having taken in a total of $105,225 in contributions, plus $500 in in-kind support; he had spent $8,592.93.
In late April 2021, Neunder gave his campaign $10,000; that was the only contribution noted that month.
In contrast, Hawkins has had no contributions, but he has provided his campaign $15,000 in in-kind support.
In 2021, the Florida Legislature approved a bill that raised the maximum contribution for a candidate in a local race from $200 to $1,000.
Neunder’s biggest fundraising month so far was September 2021, his campaign finance records make clear. He reported receiving a total of $61,775 in contributions and another $500 in in-kind support. The latter came from The Waterfrontoo, a Nokomis restaurant, which supplied food and beverages for an event, the form indicates.
Among those who gave Neunder money for the campaign, the list shows a number of persons in the real estate or development business, as well as current and past members of the Planning Commission; state Rep. Tommy Gregory, a Sarasota attorney; and the acting chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, Jack Brill of Longboat Key.
Among the developers and those with real estate interests were Elizabeth S. Neal of Boyd Realty in Bradenton; Michael Neal, son of former state Sen. Pat Neal who is the land development manager at his father’s firm, Neal Communities; the Charlene J. Neal Revocable Trust (Charlene Neal is the wife of Pat Neal and vice president of design at Neal Communities); Wilmington Land Co., which is an affiliate of Neal Communities; John and Phillipa Cannon of John Cannon Homes; Medallion Homes Gulf Coast Inc. of Sarasota, whose CEO is Carlos Beruff; Trans-United Development Corp. and Land Experts Inc., both of Bradenton, whose principal also is Beruff; Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, and its affiliate SMR Farms LLC of Lakewood Ranch; Benderson Development Co. of University Park and its affiliates 9395 CH LLC, Sarasota Ellis Associates LLC, and Anna Maria Associates LP; Mettamy Homes West Villages; Woodruff & Sons, W3 Leasing LLC, Woodruff Leasing LLC, and WWW Properties LLC, all of Bradenton, whose principal is Bruce Woodruff; and Zenith Realty Partners LLC of Sarasota, whose managing partner, John R. Peshkin of Siesta Key, also is founder of Vanguard Land LLC.
Among others associated with real estate and development on that September 2021 list were contractor Jeanette Gates of Venice, a former member of the Venice City Council; Forsberg Construction of Punta Gorda; Double J. Okeechobee LLC, a real estate firm; Audra H. Madrigal, a real estate agent in Okeechobee who is associated with Double J. Okeechobee; Hales Land & Cattle LLC of Okeechobee; Ethan Hales, who has a real estate firm in Okeechobee; 3H Ranch LLC in Okeechobee, whose manager is John Hales;; Vernon Howell Long, who has a construction firm in Wellington; Windward Building Group Inc. of St. Petersburg; DEME Construction LLC of Sarasota; Meghan E. Whitten of Lake Worth, who is identified as the chief financial officer of a contracting firm; Josiah M. Whitten of Lake Worth; Bruce Wendorf of a North Fort Myers construction firm; and LB&D Properties of Bradenton.
In Neunder’s August 2021 campaign finance filing, he recorded contributions of $1,000 apiece from Lori Gabbert, Indian Lakes SRQ Inc., Gabbert Investment Group LLC, and Flying Fox Leasing LLC, all of which had the address of 1250 Hidden Harbor Way in Sarasota. That location is associated with business ventures of James Gabbert, a member of the county’s Charter Review Board who has supported Republican County Commission candidates in years past.
Additionally, in that August 2021 filing, Neunder reported $1,000 apiece from Palmer Ranch Holdings Ltd., Palmer Ranch Holdings Inc., Culverhouse Limited Partnership, and Wynnstay Hunt Inc., all of which are associated with Palmer Ranch developer Hugh Culverhouse.
Altogether, Neunder received $15,250 for his campaign in August 2021.
Included among land-use attorneys listed in Neunder’s September 2021 campaign finance filing were Annette M. Boone ($200) and Jeffery A. Boone ($200) of the Boone, Boone & Boone law firm in Venice, plus the firm itself ($500). In November 2021, Stephen K. Boone of the same firm gave Neunder $200.
William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota and his wife, Karen; and Dan Bailey of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, also were listed in that report.
In the August 2021 filing, Neunder noted contributions of $200 each from land-use attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm and Bailey’s wife, Crystal, a former assistant state attorney in the Sixth Judicial District who is chief counsel for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
In July 2021, Robert “Bo” Medred, who often works in tandem with Charles D. Bailey III in representing clients with land-use applications, gave Neunder $1,000. Medred’s Bradenton firm, Genesis Planning & Development, also donated $1,000 to the campaign.
Additionally, County Commissioners Maio and Moran, plus Moran’s wife, Lori; Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman ($200); and State Attorney Ed Brodsky ($100) donated to the campaign.
Neunder’s biggest expenditure in his September 2021 filing was $1,910.53, which went to Public Concepts LLC of Jupiter for website work, design and printing. Neunder also paid $250 that month to Victoria Dietz of Venice for photography.
In his August 2021 report, Neunder’s largest expense was $2,500 to Public Concepts LLC of Jupiter for “campaign consulting.”
In his December 2021 campaign finance report, Neunder listed a $400 expenditure to PAC Financial Management in Tallahassee for “treasurer services.” He paid the same firm $819.16 in November 2021, that report shows.