Long­time county com­mis­sioner faces op­po­si­tion from In­de­pen­dent ri­val

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Local - BY RYAN CALLIHAN

MANATEE

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/.

PRO­VIDED

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.

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