Knight, Rainford remain in tight fundraising race for District 3 County Commission seat

Commission campaign newcomers Coe and Thornton bring in less than $10,000 each in first reports

As sheriff, Tom Knight offers comments during a Feb. 26, 2019 County Commission workshop on jail diversion programs. File photo

With the first Sarasota County Commission campaign finance reports of 2024 having been filed by the state’s April 10 deadline, The Sarasota News Leader found that in the Republican race for the District 3 seat, former three-term Sheriff Tom Knight brought in $54,190 in the first quarter of this year, plus $1,331.83 in in-kind donations, while Commissioner Neal Rainford raised another $38,339.93.

Rainford still leads Knight in overall contributions through March 31: $251,344.93, compared to Knight’s total of $178,005, the reports note.

However, Knight continues to hold the lead in political action committee (PAC) contributions through March, as shown in data provided by the Florida Division of Elections. Knight Fights For South Sarasota County had raised $145,900 through March 31, while the Friends of Neil Rainford had $120,000.

Knight reported total expenditures of $20,408.40 through the first quarter of this year, while Rainford’s form shows that he had spent $41,804.89.

A newcomer to the District 3 race, Sharon Kay Thornton, who has no political affiliation, listed a total of $5,105. That included $50 from in-kind support and $2,000 in the form of a loan she made to her campaign, as shown in the report turned over to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office earlier this month.

Additionally, Thornton noted $1,132.54 in expenses.

A Venice resident, Thornton formally filed on Feb. 27 for the District 3 race, ensuring that the Aug. 20 Primary Election between Knight and Rainford will be open only to registered voters in District 3 who also are Republicans. Prior to Thornton’s entry into the race, any voter in District 3 would have been able to participate in that primary, regardless of political affiliation or lack thereof.

On her website, Thornton says that if she wins the seat, she “will make the evolution of Sarasota County my priority through listening to everyone and considering the needs of our varied population, including young families, the elderly, and vulnerable populations. It means not just maintaining the natural, cultural, and economic treasures of the County, but also our healthcare and human services systems. I want to help ensure we have sound county policies for the community — and that is accomplished by listening to all stakeholders and constituents.”

Thornton adds, “I will use my 30-plus years [of] experience as an executive and dynamic problem-solver in the healthcare industry to bring the people of Sarasota County together for community solutions that work for everyone.”

Knight’s latest report

Knight’s latest report lists 134 contributions, ranging from $25 to $1,000, with the latter the maximum amount allowed under state law.

Several entities associated with the late John Davidson, who founded Davidson Drugs on Siesta Key and who owned many parcels on the barrier island, gave $1,000 to Knight.

In the wake of Davidson’s death in December 2023, his widow, Rita, is handling his business interests, as noted in records found on the website of the Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller. Davidson Epes Partnership, Sunrise LLC, and Davidson Sears Partnership contributed a total of $3,000 to Knight’s campaign.

Additionally, Davidson’s daughter and her husband, Suzanne and Rick Munroe, gave Knight $2,000 through two companies: Sun Garden Café LLC, which formally is the owner of the eponymous restaurant in Siesta Key Village, and Palm Parking, which has the same address as Sun Garden Café.

Further, Knight received $2,000 in a pair of contributions from Siesta Key businessman and property owner Chris Brown of Osprey; those came through Sunburn LLC and 1448 Main Street LLC.

Knight has been vocal in his opposition to the high-rise hotels proposed on Siesta Key.

Additionally, Siesta Key property owner and businessman Jay Lancer contributed a $2,000 bundle to Knight — half in Lancer’s name; the rest, from Caribbean Motor Ships Inc. of Sarasota, whose address is that of Lancer and his wife, Barbara.

Before her death this year, long-time county Commissioner Nora Patterson was a contributor to the Knight campaign. Photo from the website of the Robert Toale and Sons Funeral Home at Palms Memorial Park

Other who gave Knight $1,000 apiece were as follows: David E. Sessions, CEO of Willis A. Smith Construction of Sarasota; ABC Family LLC, whose principal is Siesta Key businessman Dave Balot; Beachy Properties Inc., whose principal is Dave Beachy of Sarasota; James E. Howard of Sarasota, proprietor of Ed Howard Lincoln Mazda; Realtor Brian Wood; former county Commissioner Nora Patterson of Siesta Key, prior to her death; Realtor John L. Hutchens of Sarasota; Andrew Eggebrecht, owner of Andros Boatworks in Sarasota; Rebecca Wood, a financial manager in Christiana, Tenn.; retirees Dr. Stephen Lexow and Tim Hensey, both of Siesta Key; (Hensey was the most recent chair of the nonprofit Save Siesta Key, which was founded to try to achieve the incorporation of the part of Siesta Key within the county’s jurisdiction of Siesta Key); Lemuel Sharp III, Raymond M. Dutkiewicz, Susan M. Byrne; Emmett Bonamarte; and James M. Lombard of Nokomis; Milford Properties LLC of Venice, whose principal is Brian J. Milford; the Margaret H. Walker Trust of Venice; John R. Giglio, president of Gulf View Marina Holdings in Venice; and restaurateur Michael L. Quillen of Sarasota, owner of Gecko’s Grill & Pub.

Alice Quaries and Janice Webster, both of Siesta Key, and Village Eats LLC, a food truck company with a Bay Road mailing address in Sarasota, gave Knight $750 each.

Further, Knight received 26 contributions in the amount of $500. The News Leader counted eight of those from Siesta Key residents.

As for Knight’s first quarter expenses: The largest amounts — which added up to $6,166 — went to Data Targeting Inc. of Gainesville for advertising. Knight also paid PAC Financial Management in Tallahassee $900 for services as his treasurer, the document shows, and he reimbursed himself $2,623.80 for a variety of expenses he previously had covered out of pocket.

Rainford’s first quarter filing

In his latest report, Rainford listed 146 contributions, which ranged from $1 (from a Venice retiree) up to $1,000.

John Cannon, of John Cannon Homes, along with two family members — Realtor Samantha Minnich of Tumwater, Wash., and Rachel Cannon of Siesta Key, a hospice liaison — gave Rainford a bundle of $3,000.

Neil Rainford makes a point during a 2021 meeting of the Sarasota County Planning Commission, prior to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointment of him to the County Commission, in June 2023. News Leader image

The following entities and individuals gave him $1,000 apiece: Verdex Construction of West Palm Beach; Realtor Michael Moser of Sarabay Real Estate Inc.; U.S. Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota; RS Construction of Southwest Florida LLC, a Port Charlotte firm that does business as Ray Smith Excavating; both Scott Eller, CEO of Community Assisted & Supported Living of Sarasota (CASL), and Heather Eller, a founder of CASL; Realtor Tammy Miller of the Keller Williams firm in Venice; Fisherman’s Wharf Marina of Venice Development Co. LLC; Robert Olson of Jacksonville; retired Sarasota attorney Stephen Rees; Port & Coastal Consultants of Sarasota, whose principal, Weiqi Lin, served for many years on the county’s Environmental staff; attorney Alexandra Fugage of Sarasota; North Venice retired CPA Donna Carter; and retiree Lee Davis of Sarasota.

A number of PACs also contributed $1,000 apiece to Rainford: Miami Firefighters, Metro-Broward Firefighters, Tampa Firefighters Local 754, HNTB Holdings Ltd. of Kansas City, Mo., BCPFFP IAFF Local 4321 in Lauderhill, Friends of Danny Nix in Venice, Southwest Florida Professional Firefighters & Paramedics PC of Fort Myers, St. Petersburg Association of Firefighters Local, and Firefighters of Pasco FIREPAC.

In regard to Rainford’s first quarter expenditures, the largest — $4,387 — went to Aquarius Graphics of Sarasota for campaign shirts. He also paid $22,510 to Strategic Image Management (Simwins) of Tampa for consulting assistance; $1,605 to MRT Lawn & Garden of Port Charlotte for sign posts; and $1,113.82 to Mouthole Smashburgers and BBQ of Sarasota for a campaign event.

Details of Thornton’s report

Sharon Kay Thornton. Image from her campaign website

In her report, Thornton listed 25 contributions other than her loan. The amounts ranged from $20 to $500.

Those individuals who gave her $500 apiece were Holly King of Loveland, Ohio; Meribeth Metzler of Venice; and Sherry Borke-Harding of Venice.

The $50 in-kind contribution came from Daniel Kuether of Sarasota, chair of the Democratic Party of Sarasota County; the funds were designated for her campaign website.

Among Thornton’s expenses, the largest amount went to a Dresden, Maine, company called $347. She also spent $118.01 on “truck signs” which came from Good Guy Signs in Tampa.

District 1 update

​In the Republican race for the District 1 seat, Sarasota construction business owner Teresa Mast added another $3,425 to her funds in the first quarter of this year, bringing her total to $230,120.92.

Through March, Mast noted campaign expenditures of $62,730.45.

Mast’s opponent, Alexandra Coe, an anthropologist who is a member the Charter Review Board, vice chair of the Suncoast Commission on the Status of Women, and chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Sarasota County, listed $6,781 in contributions in her first campaign finance report, plus $750 in in-kind funds, for a total of $7,531. Coe had spent $784.68 through March, the report says.

Coe listed 46 contributions, including one for $110 that she gave to the campaign. The other amounts ranged from $1 up to $1,000.

Only three contributions of $1,000 were listed. They came from Mike Hutchinson and Eileen Fitzgerald, who together have fought the expansion of Lakewood Ranch into the eastern part of Sarasota County; and Kelly Franklin, a Laurel Park resident in Sarasota.

Additionally, both former Florida House member Ray Pilon — who filed last year as a Republican for the District 1 seat but ended up withdrawing from the race — and his wife, Kathleen, gave Coe $250.

Alexandra Coe. Photo courtesy of her campaign

Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck, who long has championed controls on development in the county, and Sarasota contractor Gerald Ripo contributed $500 apiece.

The largest single expense in Coe’s first campaign finance report was $347.75, which went to Gateway Media/Budget Print in Sarasota. Coe also spent $212.82 at OfficeMax in Sarasota for printing and supplies, the form says.

Mast reported only nine contributions during the first quarter. They ranged from $25 to $1,000. Both Amy Rainford, wife of Neil Rainford, and the HNTB Holdings Ltd. political action committee gave Mast $1,000, the document shows.

Her two largest expenses to companies, listed in the report, were $6,330 paid to Strategic Image Management (Simwins) of Tampa for consulting assistance and $1,070 to Dorsett Signs in Venice for campaign signs.

Additionally, she reimbursed herself $27,820.35 for various campaign expenses that she had incurred.

The sole candidate thus far for District 5

Finally, in the District 5 race, incumbent Commissioner Ron Cutsinger of Englewood remains the only candidate. Through March, he had raised a total of $96,265.92, having added $15,175 in the first quarter of this year. His expenses as of March 31 totaled $14,156.42.

Cutsinger listed 35 new contributions, ranging from $25 to the maximum of $1,000.

He received a $2,000 “bundle” from BSOX LLC and Bowersox Air Conditioning and Heating, both of Venice.

The other entities and individuals to give him $1,000 in the first quarter were the Kellogg & Kimsey general contracting firm in Sarasota; Utopia Lands Partnership LLLP, which is associated with the family that owns Hi Hat Ranch in the eastern part of the county; RS Construction of Southwest Florida LLC of Port Charlotte; marketing executive Linda J. Hart of Power Patriots in Englewood; and the homebuilding company PulteGroup, which is based in Atlanta.

The largest single expense that Cutsinger listed in his latest report was $1,214.67, which was identified as a reimbursement to Charlie Murphy of Sarasota for food and beverages for a campaign event held at the Field Club in Sarasota. Murphy is the executive vice president of The Bank of Tampa, his LinkedIn account says. He also gave the campaign a $250 contribution, the report notes.