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New challenger joins the District 1 race

Written by on Saturday, June 1, 2024

Sequoia Felton wants to pick up where Willie Shaw left off.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: May 31, 2024

Host: The race for the District 1 seat in the Sarasota City Commission is now three-way. Incumbent Kyle Battie has already faced Melissa Morrill-Furman, a flight attendant with Delta Airlines who lives – like Battie – in the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood. The most recent newcomer in the race is Sequoia Felton, who lives in Newtown, the majority minority neighborhood. Our news team has more.

Johannes Werner: District 1 of the Sarasota City Commission includes Newtown, historically the African American neighborhood in town. The district also includes the mixed Central-Cocoanut and Park East neighborhoods, as well as the rapidly gentrifying Gillespie Park.

Since the 1980s, all District 1 commissioners have been African American. Which translates to Morrill-Furman, who is white, aiming to be the exception from that rule. We tried to reach her for an interview, to no avail. We could not find a campaign website for her.

We did reach Sequoia Felton. According to her campaign website, she was born and grew up in Manatee County, raised by her grandmother, and moved to Newtown in 2006. She is the eldest of six, and has helped her younger siblings with education and other support. She has worked in hospitality jobs and described herself as an entrepreneur. Felton has volunteered for the Democratic Black Caucus and the City of Sarasota’s Human Relations Board.

Here is what she said why she is running for office.

Sequoia Felton

Sequoia Felton: I’m running because I care about my city, my community, and the people of the community. And I just feel like District 1 needs a voice, and we haven’t had one since Willie Shaw represented us. 

JW: She referred to Willie Shaw, the city commissioner and former mayor, who lost in the last election to Battie. Asked about the biggest issue she wants to pursue, she said she is concerned about luxury development, and the displacement of homeowners and tenants in her district.

SF: Developers are coming in. They’re not asking the community their needs and they’re just allowed to build up these homes without asking anybody. I’ve watched historical Overtown displaced by gentrification, so I don’t want to see that happen to Newtown. I don’t begrudge anybody for their success in life, but the people being displaced have nowhere to go and the city needs them to have a workforce. So I want to address the fact that there is less black home ownership in Florida than any other place in the country.  

JW: Also a concern: She currently works in downtown and often commutes home to Newtown on a rental Veo scooter. With that experience, she wants to make sure there’s multi-modal transportation in safe, shaded and clean streets.

Felton has the endorsement of Willie Shaw, the former mayor and city, as well as of former city commissioner Fredd Atkins, and Jetson Grimes, a long-time Newtown booster.

We were unsuccessful reaching Kyle Battie via the phone number listed on the city’s candidate page, as well as his city email and City Hall phone number. We could not find a campaign website.

Kyle Battie

In the last election, Battie expressed concern about rising living cost and gentrification, and about rising crime in his district. During his tenure, he was the sole “no” vote on a request by the Sarasota Housing Authority to build taller and bigger public-housing structures in Newtown. His vote mirrored concern of Newtown residents about concentrating too many low-income residents in an already poor neighborhood. He did vote “yes” on a change to the city’s comprehensive plan that tries to incentivize workforce housing. Neighborhood organizers oppose the change, saying it will lead to too tall buildings while requiring too few affordable units from developers. Battie supported it, suggesting that developers would not respond to higher affordable housing requirements, and that a little is better than nothing.

He responded enthusiastically to the opening of the first commercial bank in Newtown.

Battie is the defendant in an ongoing lawsuit by a neighborhood activist. Kelly Franklin sued Battie, after he turned a fake Facebook post into an agenda topic in a city commission meeting this January. His presentation suggested Franklin was the author of the racist post. When it became clear that the post was fake, he refused to apologize, prompting Franklin to sue.

There may be two stages to the District 1 elections. If none of the three gets more than 50% of the vote on August 20, the two leading vote-getters will head to a run-off on Nov. 5.

Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.