Two longtime friends, incumbent Harold Byrd Jr. and newcomer Keenan Wooten, are competing against one another in the contest for the Ward 5 seat on Bradenton’s City Council. Combative at the televised Herald/METV candidate forum, the two sparred repeatedly over issues big and small — with Wooten launching the first jab by saying nobody in Ward 5 knows Byrd because he never visits the neighborhoods and talks to his constituents, and Byrd calling out his challenger’s lack of experience and negative outlook on the city.
Those are just two of the punishing remarks between friends.
After filing candidate papers, the 35-year-old Wooten spoke highly of Byrd while also addressing his aspirations in a Herald interview: “He’s doing an excellent job, but it’s time for my generation, the millennials, to take a leadership role in the community. I just want to exhibit fiscal responsibility and bring business and community development to this seat.”
Byrd’s council performance does indeed rank as excellent. His deep policy knowledge, governance skills and spot-on goals for another term should convince voters to return him to the City Council.
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The 56-year-old Byrd was first elected to the Ward 5 seat in 1989, and he served two terms before defeat in a three-way contest in 1995. He then earned a law degree from Florida A&M University. He returned to the council in 2007 and has served the ward since. Recently, he completed two other significant goals that will boost his political career: He now holds a master’s degree in public administration and earned certification as a redevelopment professional through the Florida Redevelopment Association.
The latter elevates his standing in his leadership role of the city’s three community redevelopment agencies, especially with the one in Ward 5. The City Council assumed direct oversight of the agencies this year. If re-elected, he vows to focus on the redevelopment and revitalization of neighborhoods — critical to his ward, the poorest in the city. Byrd expressed confidence that the creation of a city economic development department, now funded, and the proper allocations of tax increment funds will propel more activity in the city’s three Community Redevelopment Agencies.
Byrd’s other priorities embrace broad issues: manageable growth, reasonable taxation, homelessness and strong law enforcement and public safety. Specifically, he cites housing rehabilitation and achievable attainable housing objectives.
Byrd articulates his positions with deeper meaning than Wooten. The challenger, though, intends to become “the hardest working City Council member Bradenton has ever seen,” bringing full transparency, strong ethics and his organizational and collaborative skills to the position. One of his priorities is rectifying the city’s decade-long plus failure to bring a grocery store to the “food desert” that is Ward 5, a store convenient to reach by low-income residents who lack transportation. Wooten maintains this should be the council’s top priority alongside inserting infill of under-utilized properties into Bradenton’s growth plans.
Wooten, the student support specialist at Lee Middle School and coordinator of the school’s Take Stock in Children mentoring program, pledges to be a councilman who reaches out to everyone — specifically through quarterly town halls at the 13th Avenue Dream Center. We challenge Byrd to get out into the community more and listen to his Ward 5 constituents.
A political newcomer, Wooten shows promise — for future campaign success. His candidacy is a commendable undertaking, showing he can take on an incumbent with some effectiveness.
Byrd, however, carries credentials and experience too valuable to dismiss. For Bradenton City Council Ward 5, the Bradenton Herald Editorial Board recommends Harold Byrd Jr.
Candidate replies, deadlines
Candidates who do not receive the Herald Editorial Board’s endorsement are invited to submit a response of up to 300 words by noon two weekdays days after the endorsement appears in print. Responses can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 941-745-7097.
View candidate forums
The Herald, in partnership with Manatee Educational Television, has videotaped candidate forums in these contested races. These forums can be viewed on www.youtube.com/manateeeducationaltv (click on Videos). METV is also regularly airing all the forums, and the station can be viewed on Brighthouse channel 614, Verizon FIOS 31 and Comcast 19. For METV air times, visit www.metvweb.com.