For the first time, Bradenton’s three mayoral candidates took the same stage Thursday to discuss the issues at hand. While the tone remained civil and professional throughout the debate before the Tiger Bay Club, some subtle, and not so subtle, potshots were taken by the candidates.
Eleuterio Salazar Jr. contended incumbent Mayor Wayne Poston has “neglected the black community, neglected the Latino community and neglected the LGBT community.”
Salazar said his campaign has become the face of Bradenton’s millennial movement.
“I’ve enjoyed my first political run,” he said. “It’s been exciting. It’s been something no one has been able to do as the youngest candidate to run for mayor. We’ve changed lives, empowered millennials and made it fun to vote again. Millennials demand answers from our establishment politicians.”
Both Salazar and candidate Warren Merriman kept the attacks focused on Poston and not one another.
Merriman, a former deputy police chief, was fired from the Bradenton Police Department in January, and later convicted of misdemeanor theft. On Thursday, however, he contended he was the victim.
I was the victim of moral corruption of the city.
Mayoral candidate Warren Merriman
“I was the victim of moral corruption of the city,” Merriman said. “A week before I was placed on leave, I let him (former Chief Michael Radzilowski) know the lieutenant over the accreditation standards was not up to par,” referring to the department’s accreditation lapsing in 2014.
Poston said the lack of accredition updates happened under Merriman’s watch. But Merriman said he was then targeted because Radzilowski was “insecure.” Merriman went on to claim there is no record of a conviction in Manatee County. When Merriman was convicted, he was placed on 90 days of probation and, if completed successfully, his conviction would be cleared from his record, according to the final judgment in Merriman’s case.
Merriman was released from probation on April 22. While the terms of his conviction included clearing the charge from his permanent record, his criminal proceedings are still listed in Manatee County court records.
Claims of missing evidence
Merriman attacked Poston over claims Merriman has been touting on the campaign trail — that evidence reportedly has gone missing from the police department’s evidence room under Poston’s watch.
Poston has told the Bradenton Herald that the evidence room rumors are being looked into, and that Police Chief Melanie Bevan is in the process of cataloging the evidence room.
Poston said Bevan has instituted stricter policies for more accountability, and all information pertaining to the evidence room would be transferred into a database. Until that process is completed, Poston said the information would not be released during “an ongoing investigation.” Bevan could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Merriman claimed in the debate Thursday that two officers have been fired without prosecution over the incident.
Poston said that isn’t true.
“One retired and one quit and that had nothing to do with this,” Poston said after the debate. “This is an ongoing investigation, and we will release the results of that investigation once it is concluded.”
Why they’re running
When asked why they were running for mayor, both Salazar and Merriman said it is time for a change.
Poston, Bradenton’s mayor since 2000, said he has a “measurable record of success. We’ve won international awards for Riverwalk and downtown. I have a record of success and want to continue that, and I think the people of Bradenton want that. When I came into office, I had 27 things on my bucket list I wanted to get accomplished. I have three left and want to get those done.”
The candidates agreed on several topics, including the expansion of Riverwalk, selling the existing city hall property, making public safety a priority, and addressing infrastructure needs. All also expressed opposition to the city council taking over the city’s three community redevelopment agencies.
Taking over the CRAs is the worst decision the city council ever made.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston
“I argued against it from the start,” Poston said. “Taking over the CRAs is the worst decision the city council ever made. I like involving citizens. I like our citizen boards. I don’t like big government, and this was a step toward big government. It was a horrible decision.”
Poston, who does not have a vote in a weak mayor form of government, said he did all he could to convince his council to slow the process, but to no avail, receiving support only from Ward 2 Councilman Gene Brown, who also opposed the takeover.
Salazar called it an “epic fail” on the part of the council. “It should have never happened,” he said. “It was very negligent and poorly thought out. It was doing fine on its own.”
Merriman called it a “knee-jerk reaction from the city council. The boards were doing a great job. The citizens were not in favor of this and they took it on without a plan. I’d like to think we can take it back to the people.”
Millennials demand answers from our establishment politicians.
Mayoral candidate Eleuterio Salazar Jr.
With national attention being paid to the current presidential candidates and their health records, Poston was asked if being 72 is an obstacle for him serving a fifth term in office.
“I’m 72 and in good shape,” he said. “I go to the gym three times a week, have a personal trainer and can do a 5-minute plank, which is pretty good for anyone.”
Poston’s 5-minute plank comment drew a big round of applause, but then he got serious.
“I have a strong record of running big organizations,” Poston said. “I have the network of people across the state and this country that helps me make good decisions, and that’s why we are the 46th fastest-growing city in the United States.”