Caragiulo chooses not to seek re-election

Instead, county commissioner is endorsing Republican state committeeman Christian Ziegler

Commissioner Paul Caragiulo presides at a 2017 County Commission meeting. File photo

On Jan. 16, new Sarasota County Commission Chair Nancy Detert said she hoped to be able to lead the board as well as her predecessor did in 2017.

After the commissioners settled in at the dais in the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice for their first meeting of 2018, Detert recognized her colleague Paul Caragiulo.

Last year, she said, the commission marked the opening of one new library, the Shannon Staub Library on the Suncoast Technical College campus in North Port —she called that “a big accomplishment” — and it took a number of steps to set the new William H. Jervey Jr. Venice Public Library on the path to construction.

Additionally, Detert noted, the county had closed on the property for the first segment of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail, hosted the World Rowing Championships and completed the necessary agreements for the Atlanta Braves to relocate to the county for Spring Training, starting in 2019.

All of that, she told Caragiulo, “was on top of your arguably being a hero of the last hurricane. … You really put a lot of effort into it and kept the public informed and really did what a public servant should do in a time of crisis.”

Even though he and his family were without power longer than many other residents, Caragiulo posted updates day after day — usually several times a day — on Facebook, letting his followers know about Florida Power & Light Co.’s work to restore electricity to the 218,840 county customers affected by Hurricane Irma.

As it turned out, that hurricane played a pivotal role in another issue Caragiulo had been dealing with, he told The Sarasota News Leader this week: In the aftermath of the storm, he knew he did not want to seek a second term on the commission.

“It was a real tough year,” Caragiulo said of 2017 as he spoke with the News Leader by telephone on Jan. 24, “and [Irma] capped it.”

Just after 5 p.m. on Jan. 22, Caragiulo posted a note on Facebook announcing his decision. “First I’d like to say what a pleasure and a privilege it has been to serve the citizens of this community for the last seven years,” he wrote. “That being said, I have determined that the best choice I can make right now is to not seek reelection in November.”

Then-County Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo speaks during an April 20, 2017 event at the North Port Library, with many youngsters in attendance. Photo courtesy of Sarasota County via Twitter

When he first was elected to public office — winning a seat on the Sarasota City Commission — his children were much younger, he told the News Leader. His daughters are 9 and 11 now, he added. “I’m just in a different place than I was seven years ago. … At this point, it’s kind of a life-scheduling thing.”

“It’s really hard for folks who’ve never done this,” he said of public service, to realize how much of a demand it is not only on the person in office but also on the person’s family.

Moreover, Caragiulo noted, Sarasota County “is such a close compact community,” that no matter where he goes, he can expect people to bring up public issues. “You don’t punch a [time] card [as a county commissioner].”

Caragiulo also talked of his preference for focusing on policy as an elected official. “I hate the politics of [being a board member].”

“I can tell you that, Sunday night, I slept better,” he said, knowing he would make his plans public the next day.

A successor

Christian Ziegler announces his filing for the County Commission District 2 seat. Image from his Facebook page

For months, Caragiulo continued, he had been talking with Christian Ziegler about taking a shot at the District 2 commission seat. Ziegler was elected to serve as Sarasota County’s state committeeman in 2012 and re-elected without opposition in 2016.

Prior to becoming state committeeman, Ziegler was a legislative assistant and the digital director for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican. In 2016, he was a Florida elector for President Donald Trump. His Facebook page includes photos of him with Trump and with Gov. Rick Scott.

Additionally, Ziegler served as executive director of the Republican Party of Sarasota County from 2011-2012.

Ziegler’s ties to the GOP were cited after Scott named Ziegler’s wife, Bridget, to serve the remainder of the term of Sarasota County School Board member Carol Todd in 2014. After Todd tendered her resignation, Todd’s colleagues urged Scott not to fill the seat, as it was up for election that year. Yet, Scott proceeded with the appointment. As the incumbent, Bridget Ziegler ended up winning the seat in the 2014 election; she is serving as chair of that board this year.

In a Jan. 22 announcement on his Facebook page, Ziegler wrote, “Why I’m running? Simple — After being asked to consider running for this position of public trust, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help shape the local community that my mother retired to, my wife & I work in and most importantly, where my two daughters (4 & 2) will grow up in.”

Caragiulo told the News Leader that when he was thinking about who might be a good candidate to take his place, the proverbial light bulb went off in his head in September: Ziegler. “He thought I was messing with him,” Caragiulo added, when he first broached the subject with Ziegler.

A map shows the County Commission districts. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The three primary criteria Caragiulo considered for service on the commission, he said, related to work ethic, personality and whether the person could win a Republican primary for the District 2 seat.

“I have an enormous respect for that board,” Caragiulo stressed in speaking about the County Commission. What is most important, in his view, he added, “is the public perception of that board.” Even when members disagree, he pointed out, they are very respectful of each other.

Ziegler, he continued, is “very, very honest, and he’s very, very independent-minded, and that’s exactly what you need” on the commission. “He has no problem poking somebody in the eye [and] he’s a real policy wonk.”

Referring to Ziegler’s activism on behalf of the Republican Party, Caragiulo said Ziegler has been doing “what political activists do.” Caragiulo characterized it as “dog whistling.”

He added, “The partisanship is not really relevant” in terms of the County Commission service.

As for the remainder of his term: Caragiulo has 10 months ahead of him in which he can help shape the future of the county. He wrote in his Facebook announcement, “There is certainly plenty of work to do in my remaining 300 days and I will continue to do my part to advance the commission goals and priorities.”

During the Jan. 16 meeting, the commissioners unanimously approved their top 10 priorities for 2018. No. 1 is an issue Caragiulo especially has championed: creation of more workforce housing. On Jan. 16, he stressed his desire to see staff bring additional proposals to the board as soon as possible, adding that he hoped the commissioners would be able to vote on new measures no later than the spring.

The county commissioners have approved this list as their priorities for 2018. ‘Traffic,’ they have agreed, is a multi-faceted issue. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The very next day, the commission unanimously approved new parking regulations designed to make it less expensive for developers to build affordable units.

And after his term ends? “There’s a lot of freedom in not being on a board,” Caragiulo pointed out to the News Leader; opportunities abound for serving the community. “I would argue that you could do more as long as you establish solid relationships with people.”