He will face fellow Siesta resident Ramirez in the Aug. 23 Primary
Siesta Key architect Mark Smith, a longtime island leader, has filed as a Republican to seek the District 2 County Commission seat.
He will face another Siesta resident, Lourdes Ramirez, in the Aug. 23 Republican Primary Election.
Members of the Republican Party in the county asked him to run, Smith told The Sarasota News Leader during a June 1 telephone interview. That was partly in response to the fact that District 2 incumbent Christian Ziegler, who won the seat in November 2018, had not filed for re-election, Smith explained.
He did talk with Ziegler, Smith added, before submitting his candidacy forms to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office on May 31. While Ziegler did not rule out filing for re-election, Smith told the News Leader, Ziegler encouraged Smith to enter the race.
When the County Commission approved redrawn district boundaries in 2019, District 2 became what community political activists have asserted is the only Democratic-majority district of the five from which county commissioners are elected. Last November, when the commissioners adjusted the boundaries once again, to take into account population changes shown by the results of the 2020 Census, Ziegler cast the lone “No” vote. He voiced support for a citizen-initiated proposal that would have flip-flopped Districts 1 and 2, making District 2 once again a Republican stronghold.
Not only does Ziegler serve as a county commissioner, but he also is vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida.
Smith has become the third Siesta candidate to vie for the District 2 seat. Along with Ramirez, Mike Cosentino filed to run as a Democratic candidate. Cosentino will face Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody and former Sarasota Mayor and Commissioner Fredd Atkins of Newtown in the Aug. 23 Democratic Primary for the District 2 seat.
During the June 1 interview with the News Leader, Smith pointed out that he is a moderate. He is hopeful, he said, that people will realize that by listening to his views on county issues.
Moreover, he continued, his wife, Esther, is a Democrat. He called her his “biggest asset” for the campaign, thanks to her upbeat, outgoing nature. She always has a smile, he added, and “she has more energy than anybody I have ever met.”
Smith also noted that his professional expertise as an architect would prove beneficial to the commission, given the number of construction projects on the horizon. For example, he pointed out, plans already are underway to build a new North County Administration Center on land located at 6700 Fruitville Road in Sarasota. That process is expected to take four years, county staff has told the board members.
Additionally, Smith has been an advocate for changes in county policies to allow old condominium complexes with structural problems to be demolished and rebuilt with the same number of dwelling units. In representing the Sea Club V complex on south Siesta Key, Smith has contended that permitting such action would prevent tragedies in the county similar to the June 2021 collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, which resulted in 98 deaths.
One concern Smith has had about filing for the commission seat, he acknowledged to the News Leader, is his leadership of a nonprofit organization called Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), which advocated for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find a source of sand other than Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido Key Beach.
SOSS2’s directors never were convinced by the Army Corps of Engineers’ modeling that Siesta Key would be able to withstand a major storm if the pass were dredged for the Lido project, Smith explained.
He stressed that neither he nor his fellow SOSS2 directors ever opposed the renourishment of South Lido, as it was clear that the beach on that barrier island had suffered significant erosion. Their focus was on research showing that Big Pass — and its ebb shoal — protected Siesta Key from high-wind and rain events. The waterway never had been dredged prior to the Lido undertaking.
Since the South Lido renourishment was completed in the spring of 2021, Smith pointed out, “We haven’t gotten hit with a major storm,” which, he noted, is fortunate.
Leadership roles with the Siesta Chamber and Village Association
Smith also served for many years as president or an officer of the Siesta Key Village Association, which represented business owners and managers. (The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce absorbed that Village Association at the end of 2016.)
After he took on responsibilities with the Village Association, he explained, the late Charlie Valentine, then the president of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, asked him to join that organization’s board, to offer his thoughts and recommendations. That led to eventual service as chair of the Chamber, a position he also has held at various times, Smith said. In fact, as Smith noted, he was named chair-elect for this year. If he should win the District 2 seat, Smith added, he would have to give up his Chamber role, given the amount of time that he would need to dedicate to county issues.
The News Leader did ask Smith about his appointment of Venice CPA Eric Robinson as his campaign treasurer — a fact that could raise concerns among voters. A variety of news media accounts over the years have linked Robinson to “dark money” politics, with Robinson having handled funds for numerous political action committees committed to Republican initiatives.
“He was recommended to me,” Smith said of Robinson, “and so I said, ‘OK.’”
Smith emphasized Robinson’s expertise in campaign finance, which, Smith pointed out, is critical for ensuring that all of Smith’s required reports comply with the law. In fact, Smith added, the Supervisor of Elections Office employee who assisted him with his filing this week stressed the need for him to make certain his financial records are accurate.
The official qualifying period for the County Commission races will begin at noon on Monday, June 13, and end at noon on Friday, June 17.
Along with electing an individual to represent District 2, voters will choose a new commissioner for District 4. Commissioner Alan Maio, who won the District 4 seat for the first time in November 2014 and who was re-elected in November 2018, is term-limited.