Bradenton voters will decide Nov. 8 who they will trust to guide the city into the next four years. Incumbent Mayor Wayne Poston is seeking a fifth term and faces challenges from political newcomer Eleuterio Salazar Jr. and former deputy police chief Warren Merriman.
All three candidates have challenges to overcome. Poston had promised he would not run after a second term, but now says his job is not finished, noting he has fulfilled 24 of 27 items he wanted to complete as mayor.
Merriman now faces a possible revocation of his law enforcement certification on Nov. 3.
Merriman opted to submit a prepared statement on his campaign, noting his years of public service. He has publicly maintained his innocence in his theft case, but in a letter to the judge who convicted him dated March 29, Merriman accepted full responsibility for his actions.
“I shoulder the responsibility for my act,” Merriman wrote.
Salazar faces a Bradenton voter base that is about 53 percent Republican and 46 percent Democrat. He has publicly aligned himself to the left as a self-proclaimed liberal progressive, touting endorsements from Democratic-based organizations and candidates, even though the mayoral race is nonpartisan.
Salazar said it’s time for voters to decide between him and what he calls the “political establishment and good ol’ boy network.”
“If the voters want fresh leadership, then that would be me,” Salazar said. “I’m the only one that doesn’t have an agenda and am not involved in some type of investigation. When you look at my opponents’ records, the choice is clear to me and many of the voters I’ve spoken to.”
Poston said the “good ol’ boy” network died with his first administration.
“I first started with a group called ‘Take Back Bradenton,’ and that’s how I got elected,” Poston said. “A whole lot of people know me and how I do this job, and very few people could refer to me as a politician. We have a good team working here and we are doing a pretty good job, and I believe most people would agree.”
I’m not really focused on what my opponents do or say or what they may or may not bring to the table.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston
Both Salazar and Merriman are calling for more transparency, particularly within the Bradenton Police Department and the ongoing FBI investigation of the department. Salazar said both Poston and Merriman are to blame.
“The fact of the matter is both the mayor and Merriman were working for the city at this time,” he said. “Whether they want to point fingers at one another or not, they were working for the city. The issue is that we need transparency, or this wouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.”
Poston said it was inappropriate to release information of an ongoing investigation to the public in order to not tip off those suspected of possible wrongdoing.
“I’m not really focused on what my opponents do or say or what they may or may not bring to the table,” Poston said. “We continue to go door to door every weekend and continue to speak to groups and just talking to folks.”
Merriman wrote that he has a quality-of-life strategic plan that will address the community’s pressing issues such as the heroin epidemic, traffic, affordable housing, making the Ninth Street entertainment district a reality and more. Merriman stated he would also press the city council to “amend the antiquated 1903 City Charter to remove the title of police commissioner from the office of mayor.”
Merriman said the investigation of the police department was a coverup that affected elected officials and citizenry alike.
“These incidents occurred due to the fact that the police chief is only accountable to the mayor, and furthermore, the mayor has no inherent police powers by Florida State Statute,” Merriman wrote.
Name: Wayne Poston
Election experience: Has held the office of mayor since 2000.
Professional experience: U.S. Air Force veteran, executive editor and vice president of the Bradenton Herald from 1976-1999.
Family: Married to his wife Patricia since 1991. Two adult children, Stacy and David.
Name: Warren Merriman
Election experience: None
Professional experience: U.S. Navy veteran, correctional officer with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office from 1994-1996, Bradenton Police Department from 1996-2015, rising to the rank of deputy chief before being terminated in 2015.
Family: Married to city council candidate Devon Davis for 14 years.
Name: Eleuterio Salazar Jr.
Election experience: None
Professional experience: Community Relations Coordinator at OneBlood for one year.
Family: Unmarried, but has a 6-year-old daughter.