BRADENTON -- The Bradenton City Council seat that has been occupied for 14 years by the same councilwoman is up for grabs this November election -- and three political newcomers said Wednesday that they're each ready to take it.
The Ward 2 seat is being contested by Gene Brown, George Mendez and Binnie Williams -- all with business backgrounds, but with different approaches on how to lead the city if elected. The three candidates pitched their ideas at a forum hosted Wednesday by the Bradenton Herald and Manatee Educational Television.
"I don't want to reinvent the wheel," said Mendez, a retired transit planner for Manatee County, current
tour guide at Port Manatee and owner of George's Disc Jockey Services. "I have been promoting downtown for many years and believe we have a lot of potential in the city."
Mendez said as a city leader, he says he would cooperate with the economic development council, downtown leaders and the chamber of commerce to help redevelop the city.
Williams, a community activist and freelance writer who for more than a decade operated Creative Solutions producing videos and print materials, emphasized the need to approach issues differently.
"We need new ways of thinking about things," Williams said.To improve the 36.2 percent office vacancy rate downtown, Bradenton needs to re-examine how much it's charging for rent and what it is renting, Williams said. The city also needs to devote attention to other fragments of the populations.
"A lot of people have interests whose needs are not being met," she said.
Gene Brown said it is important to utilize amenities Bradenton already has, like McKechnie Field and the Riverwalk, in order to move forward.
"If we can somehow tie our city together ... that's going to bring business downtown," said Brown.
All three candidates agreed on moving City Hall and the police department away from the waterfront area in order to capitalize on the property's value. The newly adopted Bradenton budget includes the usage of $550,000 from the reserves fund to buy fire trucks and information technology that will be used in the police department.
Brown does not plan to "dip into the reserves unless absolutely necessary," he said. Mendez agreed with Brown, but added that in unfavorable economic times "dipping into the reserves is something that has to be done."
Taking from the reserves is something Williams would consider if it would be used to increase the salaries of police officers and firefighters, she said.
The candidates' financial reports filed with the Supervisor of Elections office note that Williams has $800 in contributions, derived from $500 in loans from herself to her campaign and a $300 check contribution to herself. She has spent all but $36.22 of that contribution.
Brown has raised about $12,500, including a $100 contribution from Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube for sign materials and a $500 check from his funeral home business. Brown has spent $1,853.20
Mendez's latest financial reports indicate about $2,171 in contributions. Manatee County School Board member Julie Aranibar supported Mendez with a $200 check. Mendez expenditures total $1,459.14.
Bradenton residents will elect their next Ward 2 council representative in the Nov. 6 general elections. In the August primaries, Bradenton residents decided to eliminate runoff elections, meaning that the winning candidate no longer has to get more than 50 percent of the votes, just the most votes.