Two write-in candidates join races for County Commission, with District 1 filer criticized for acting only to prevent ‘universal primary’ in August

Mandatory net worth statements show Thornton in District 3 race to have highest total

This box on the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections website shows all of the candidates who filed for that seat, with details about who qualified for the race. Image courtesy Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections

Two new candidates — both of them with write-in status — filed for Sarasota County Commission seats before the end of the official qualifying period, which began on June 10 and ended on June 14, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

Hope Williams filed on June 4 for District 1, as shown in the records maintained by the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Daniel Kuether, chair of the Sarasota County Democratic Party, wrote in a June 12 news release that Williams is the 20-year-old daughter of Traci Williams. On May 15, Traci Williams posted on her public Facebook page that she is the campaign manager for Republican Teresa Mast, who filed in 2023 for the District 1 seat that Commissioner Michael Moran will have to vacate in November because of term limits.

The address that Hope Williams provided in her Appointment of Campaign Treasurer filing with the Supervisor of Elections Office is 4240 Adelaar Drive in Sarasota. The owners of that property are Steele T. Williams and Traci S. Williams, as shown in the records of the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office.

A May 26 Facebook post by Traci Williams referenced Mast’s appearance at a baby shower for Traci’s daughter, “Stacihope.”

This is among the photos on Traci Williams’ public Facebook page, showing Williams and her daughter ‘Stacihope.’

Hope Williams did not respond to a News Leader inquiry about whether she is indeed the Stacihope referenced in that post or in the photos accompanying the post. The News Leader also had asked her to address her filing, given the criticism.

The second write-in candidate is Janique Tenney of North Port, who filed for the District 3 seat that both former three-time Sheriff Tom Knight and Commissioner Neil Rainford are seeking, as well as Sharon Thornton of Venice.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Rainford to the seat in June 2023, following the death of Commissioner Nancy Detert of Venice in April 2023. Thus, Rainford is seeking his first elected term on the board. A North County resident, he had to move to Venice to be qualified to enter the District 3 race.

Knight and Rainford are Republicans. Thornton has no party affiliation.

Janique Tenney. Photo from the SandStar Homes website

Tenney filed her paperwork with the Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Office on June 11, the form shows.

Tenney handles accounts payable at SandStar Homes LLC, according to the company’s website. Her biography on that website says, “Janique attended Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers and has always had an integral part in her family’s business, from taking over accounting duties to even electrical work. But Janique’s accomplishments don’t stop there. She’s also a CNA (certified nursing assistant) and provides pastoral care leadership while assisting her husband, Shane, in outreach ministries for their church.

Her husband is Shane Tenney, associate minister and outreach director of the Victory church in Sarasota.

“When not working or spending time with her husband and their cat, Linkx, and dog, Copper,” Janique Tenney’s biography adds, “Janique enjoys cooking and baking, attending church events, sewing and crafts, taking long hikes to explore nature, kayaking, and riding bikes.”

Until Thornton filed as a candidate for the District 3 race, the Aug. 20 primary between Knight and Rainford would have been what is called a “universal primary,” meaning any registered voter in Sarasota County who lives in District 3 could have participated in it. Moreover, the winner of that primary would have been the District 3 commissioner beginning in late November.

Criticism of Williams’ action

In regard to Hope Williams’ filing for District 1, Kuether, the county Democratic Party chair, explained in his June 12 news release, “[A] write-in candidate counts as opposition and closes [a] primary. Historically,” he added, such write-in candidates drop out ahead of the General Election.”

Republican Alexandra Coe of Sarasota is running against Mast in the District 1 race. Thus, that Aug. 20 primary also would have been a universal primary.

In 2012, when former county Commissioner Jon Thaxton was running against incumbent Kathy Dent for the position of Sarasota County supervisor of elections, Victoria Brill, the daughter of Jack Brill, a long-time leader of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, filed as a write-in candidate. Thus, Victoria Brill’s action closed the primary that would have been held with Thaxton and Dent, as both filed as Republicans.

Dent ended up winning another term that year.

Daniel Kuether. Contributed image

In his news release, Kuether pointed out that Brill, who was 24, “did not attend any debate or raise any campaign funds. She happily acknowledged that her purpose was to ensure that the primary race between Kathy Dent and Jon Thaxton included only Republican voters. As a result, over 150,000 Democrats and Independents were denied the right to vote in that primary race.”

He also noted, “Several years ago, the Florida Times-Union labeled [such write-in challengers] the Mickey Mouse candidates: individuals who abuse Florida’s ‘write-in loophole.’ ”

Kuether added, “[Williams] entered the race as a Mickey Mouse candidate so that she could disenfranchise tens of thousands of Democratic and independent voters and ensure Mast and the land developers win.”

As the News Leader has reported, Mast has accumulated tens of thousands of dollars from developers and from attorneys and principals of companies who work on development project teams. When she was a member of the Sarasota County Planning Commission, Mast routinely voted in support of applications for new communities in the county, and she expressed strong support for high-rise hotels proposed on Siesta Key.

Alexandra Coe. Photo courtesy of her campaign

In a June 14 post on her campaign page, District 1 candidate Coe wrote of Hope Williams’ filing, “Teresa Mast’s campaign shenanigans have taken away the right to vote from over 30,000 people in District 1 claiming it is the Republican Party of Florida’s position. UNTRUE!”

Coe continued, “What they have done contradicts Florida Election Law, which allows all voters to participate if candidates share the same party and face no opposition in the general election.”

Coe added, “This tactic either results in the write-in candidate being pulled out after the primary or kept in to manipulate the ballot. Sarasota needs to restore integrity and transparency to our county commission.”

Coe concluded the post by writing, “Join us in fighting these unethical tactics. Donate today to support a campaign that values every voter’s voice and secures the future of Sarasota County,” noting that her campaign website is https://www.letsgowithcoe.com/home.

Candidates’ net worth

In accord with state law, each of the County Commission candidates had to file what is called a “Form 6” with the Florida Commission on Ethics, as part of the qualifying process. That document provides what the state terms, “Full and public disclosure of financial interests.”

The News Leader reviewed all of those Form 6 filings and found the following net worth declarations. All of the figures were current as of Dec. 31, 2023, the forms said, unless otherwise noted:

District 1

  • Alexandra Coe — $1 million.
  • Teresa Mast — $1,516,056.
  • Hope Williams — $25,000.

District 3

  • Tom Knight — $1,934,189.
  • Neil Rainford — $859,039.82.
  • Janique Tenney — $138,297.15, as of June 10.
  • Sharon Thornton — $3,935,603.57.

District 5

The only candidate to file — and qualify — for the District 5 seat, which represents the southernmost portion of the county, including Englewood, is incumbent Commissioner Ron Cutsinger of Englewood. His net worth was listed as $3,161,784.

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