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Ray Pilon drops out of Sarasota County Commission race

Written by on Sunday, September 10, 2023

And that leaves Old Miakka activists scrambling for alternatives.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Sept. 8, 2023

 

Official Transcript

Host: Suburban sprawl is steamrolling the rural east of Manatee and Sarasota counties, and local politics reflect that. District 1 of the Sarasota County commission is where the developers of Lakewood Ranch want to build 5,000 luxury homes on more than 4,000 acres of pastureland. This is also the district where one candidate has set new records in fundraising, thanks to developer donations. And it’s the district where another candidate just bailed out, citing the piles of money he thinks he’s unable to match. Our news team is following that story.

Johannes Werner: Ray Pilon is the Republican who presented himself as the anti-developer candidate. Yesterday, a local online news site, the Sarasota News-Leader, broke the news that Pilon quietly bailed out of the race for Sarasota County commission’s District 1.

Pilon notified the Supervisor of Elections as early as Aug. 27 that he would be dropping out as of Sept. 1. On Sept. 3, he wrote on his Facebook page that he was dropping out “with a heavy heart”, and thanked his supporters.

Pilon

Pilon’s bailout leaves Teresa Mast as the overwhelming front runner. The Republican has raised more than $200,000, of which she had barely spent $8,000, as of the latest campaign finance report. Her donors’ list is a Who Is Who of local builders and developers. It includes entities and persons connected LWR Communities, the developers of Lakewood Ranch, and to Neal Communities, the biggest homebuilder at Lakewood Ranch. Mast owns a homebuilding company herself, and her husband Jon is the CEO of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association.

In a phone interview with the Sarasota News-Leader on Sept. 5, Pilon did not mention Mast by name, but he said that his main reason to drop out was financial. As a veteran campaigner who ran for county commission before, as well as for state house, he said that “it takes funds to get a message out”. He had raised close to $10,000 as of the last report with the Sarasota Supervisor of elections. That’s 5 percent of what Mast had raised.

Pilon’s move means a realignment for the grassroots activists who have been trying to slow down the steamroller. The individuals around Keep the Country, whose yellow “Keep the Country Country” signs have sprung up all over the east of the county, had rallied around Pilon. That’s because the political veteran had positioned himself in support of their struggle, and he didn’t mince words when it came to what he thought about massive new developments.

Becky Ayech heads the Old Miakka Community Club, a non-profit founded just after World War 2 that tries to preserve the rural community’s character. She has also joined a lawsuit against Sarasota County over its approval of the Lakewood Ranch project. WSLR News asked her how she felt about Pilon’s dropout.

Ayech

Becky Ayech: I am very disappointed, because I believe Ray would have helped us. He did in the past, as a commissioner. He would have helped us Keep the Country Country. So, I don’t want to say sad, but I’m very disappointed. Not in him. I understand his decision. Nevertheless, I am disappointed he is not running to give us an opportunity to protect this area.

J.W.: Teresa Mast definitely is not an option for her.

B.A.: Not Teresa Mast. I’ve gone in front of her when she served as a planning commissioner. She hasn’t met a development she doesn’t like, and she’s never seen a citizen that she does like. When I wrote my comprehensive plan amendment at a Republican meeting, she stood up and asked what credentials did I have to think that I could write a comprehensive plan amendment. And I was a past planning commissioner, so I have as many credentials as she does. At every planning commission meeting that I participated in, I found her rude and condescending to the public. And so, no, she’s not an option at all.

J.W.: One other Republican candidate remains in the race. Les Nichols, who makes a living managing condo and homeowners’ associations, has said that county commissioners must weigh the environmental and economic of new development and take their time before they make a decision. Money-wise, he is a distant third, raising less than $6,000.

What does Old Miakka activist Ayech think about Nichols? She said she doesn’t know anything about him.

B.A.: I will reach out to Les Nichols, but at the same time, I have spoken to one person I do hope they would consider running. But I won’t say, because they haven’t made a commitment at all. We just talked about it a little bit. So we’d still be looking for a candidate to run, and – you know – time is getting short. It doesn’t seem that way, but it is. I am still hoping, quite frankly, that the Democratic Party come up with their own candidate.

No Democratic candidate has declared in the race for District One for the November 2024 elections.

Dan Kuether, the chair of the Sarasota County Democratic Party, told WSLR News that the party “remains committed to supporting county commission candidates that will stand up for the interests of citizens in Sarasota County and refuse to be bought by developers.”

For WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner

 

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