Longtime county commissioner faces opposition from Independent rival
Candace Luther’s father died right after she turned 18, but in the short time she knew him, at least one of his lessons stuck.
“I don’t remember a whole lot of him, but one of things he used to say all the time was if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” Luther said. “I never thought I would bring it to this level, but here I am running for county commissioner, trying to do some things myself.”
The 51-year-old tossed her hat into the ring of this year’s race against Commissioner Carol Whitmore, 63, for the District 6 At-Large seat, citing “a steady decline in the public’s faith in local government.” She believes the Board of County Commissioners has become be- holden to special interest and campaign donations from developers.
The 12-year commissioner isn’t buying it, though. Whitmore says she’s always been a steady hand and voice of reason the board, regardless of how much money she receives from private businesses.
Campaign contribution may tell the tale of the District 6 County Commission race though, as Whitmore has leveraged her name recognition to bring in $100,000 compared to Luther’s $5,000 in campaign contributions, according to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections.
“If we beat her with the amount of money we’ve raised, it’ll be the greatest grassroots win ever,” Luther said.
Luther acknowledged that she has her work cut out for her by challenging a veteran politician, but she chose her fight carefully with the goal of looking out for as many Manatee resident as possible.
“A lot of people in the county aren’t happy with representation. I have people contacting me from all over the county. No one will help them,” she said. “They can’t count on their own commissioners and they can’t count on the at-large commissioners. I want to help people from all areas.”
Money isn’t what will decide the election, the sitting commissioner said. Whitmore asserted that a candidate who hasn’t taken the time to understand the county’s budget can’t properly represent the people, referring to comments Luther made at a recent candidate forum.
At the Manatee Tiger Bay Club meeting Oct. 18, Luther said she “heard rumors” of a $500 million cash reserve that the county is sitting on and that she hadn’t factchecked it, but said, as a dental hygienist, she still has plenty of time to do the research.
“I truly believe if you’re running for office and you haven’t done your homework, then why would anyone support a person who doesn’t care enough to have those answers before they want in the door?” Whitmore asked.
Luther argues that it’s not as easy for her to access the same information that Whitmore has at her disposal.
“It’s harder for me, as a citizen, to access that information. I have to know how to work the public records request,” she said. “For me, it’s not something where I can just walk down the hall.”
That’s something she believes would change if she were elected to the board. One of her campaign promises is to accept comments from the public about upcoming projects and meet with staff to get all the facts before deciding at the dais.
“Part of the problem is that all of the facts aren’t represented. From the dais, I would know what was coming and bring forward the research I’ve already done on the subject.”
Whitmore has noticed the load of information discussed at board meetings, as well. Going forward, she said she hopes to move more of those heavy topics to work sessions.
“We tend to have work sessions at the dais,” Whitmore said of agenda items that bog down commission meetings. “Those things should be discussed in-depth at a work session. The way we do it now means we don’t have time to soak it in and it just gets stuck with us for a vote right there.”
Whitmore took issue with her opponent’s knack for picking fights with Mosaic, citing the need to cooperate with corporations and big-time developers in the area. Luther, however, said she can’t fathom letting special interest groups run roughshod over the interest of citizens.
“If we’re being being sued by (Carlos Beruff), why are we letting Beruff come in here and do all these things to us? I don’t want to work with people that are going to threaten me and hold that over my head constantly,” Luther said, referring to the county’s $135,000 settlement with the prominent developer.
But Whitmore contends that a county commissioner must weigh the needs of corporations as well as the needs of the people.
“I give (Luther) credit to the fight against Mosaic, but people live here and support them,” she said.
In addition, it’s her working relationships with local elected officials that make her the more effec- tive candidate, Whitmore said. She touted her history of collaboration with local and state officials to get projects done in Manatee County, such as the diverging diamond on University Parkway.
“This is a pivotal time for Manatee to get what’s owed to us from the state,” she said. “(Voters) deserve someone who knows how to get in the door and get the money, and I’ve proven I can do that.”
Luther said she could do as well as her opponent if given the chance because favoritism isn’t something elected officials should rely on.
“If there’s issues, I should be able to contact them just like she does. You don’t have to be buddy-buddies to get things done,” Luther said. “That’s not how business is supposed to work.”
Whitmore says her priorities will be to keep the county’s budget fiscally conservative, address infrastructure and traffic issues and to work will Rep. Bill Galvano to have the Florida Department of Transportation speed up the study on the flyover bridge project. Luther said her key issues are addressing environment problems across the county, getting a hold on Manatee’s rapid growth and standing up against Mosaic.
For more information on each candidate’s platform, visit CarolWhitmore.com and facebook.com/ voteforcandyluther/.
Manatee County resident Candace Luther, left, is running as an Independent candidate to challenge Republican Commissioner Carol Whitmore for her District 6 At-Large seat on the Board of County Commissioners.