Wayne Poston has served the city of Bradenton well during the worst of times and the best of times. Since assuming office in January 2000, Poston positioned the city for major improvements via a host of master plans led by the Downtown By Design package of projects, making solid progress until the economy tanked and the city’s momentum ran out of gas. But his steady hand helped guide the city through the Great Recession.
Then Poston played a major role in the city’s resurgence. The development of Riverwalk became a game-changing addition to Bradenton’s assets by attracting streams of residents and visitors to downtown. The resurrection of the historic but languishing Pink Palace into a sparkling Hampton Inn & Suites came about because of a considerable investment by the city, with Poston and the City Council key cogs in the project.
Today, Bradenton stands poised for much more.
In seeking a fifth term as mayor, Poston aims to achieve the final three goals out of the 27 on his list — declining to reveal the three to the Herald. The 72-year-old spent 25 years as the executive editor of the Bradenton Herald — which did not influence this Editorial Board’s position, his deft hand at leading the city did.
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Both of Poston’s two challengers —Warren Merriman and Eleuterio Salazar Jr. — are calling for change in City Hall and more engagement with the citizenry.
Merriman, the former deputy chief of the Bradenton Police Department and a cryptologist in the U.S. Navy during Operation Desert Storm/Shield, and Salazar, a community activist with numerous organizations and a college student expecting to secure a bachelor’s degree in business administration in January, rank public safety as the top priority — in agreement with Poston. The mayor also serves as the city’s police commissioner.
All three also agree that the extension of Riverwalk will help the city attract and retain millennials, the critical demographic for future prosperity. Furthermore, Poston noted the eastward expansion will concentrate on fitness and the active lifestyle, very important to this rising generation. All three express strong support for the growth of the Ninth Street West Entertainment District, a feature that will serve as another millennial magnet. The 28-year-old Salazar lays claim to representing Bradenton’s millennial movement, and his community connections bear that out.
They diverge dramatically on two substantial projects that hold great promise for the city. One is the planned parking garage on the City Hall parking lot. Both Merriman and Salazar strongly oppose the project, Merriman asserting the project is too costly for the city and there are plenty of vacant spaces elsewhere, and Salazar stating the garage is not a wise use of space or money. Poston counters that downtown lacks enough parking now and with the arrival of more hotels, restaurants, residents and events — and the $12 million expansion of the South Florida Museum — a new garage will satisfy demand.
The new garage will have dedicated space for patrons of a new downtown hotel on the site of the old Manatee Players theater across from City Hall. The developer is moving forward on a $17 million, 120-suite, nine-story Spring Hill Suites hotel a short walk from the garage, which will likely hold commercial space. Long term, a new garage is vital to the economic development of downtown as is the new hotel.
Merriman and Salazar also attack the Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta as too costly to taxpayers with little return on the investment. That position overlooks the initial event’s roaring success with both Bradenton and Palmetto profiting, though last year’s edition suffered from rain and small crowds. The big picture shows a very relevant return by putting the two cities in the state and national spotlight, thus promoting tourism and business. Certainly the regatta faces stiff headwinds in collecting private sponsorships from businesses, but the inaugural event’s “roaring success,” Poston notes, indicates future success despite last year’s rain-out.
Poston has hit other home runs, too, fostering stronger ties to the Pittsburgh Pirates, first with negotiations in 2004 to keep the major league team’s spring training in the city and then investing in the exceptional renovations at McKechnie Field while the team put $6.5 million into the improvements with more coming. Pirate City also got a makeover. The Pirates invest heavily in promoting Bradenton back in Pittsburgh, another plus for Poston.
Merriman carries some heavy baggage in his hopes for a victory with voters. He was fired from his position as the BPD’s deputy police chief and then convicted in February on one county of petit theft for submitting hours he did not work while having a subordinate cover his detail. He was put on a three-month probation. Just days before the General Election, he faces a Florida Department of Law Enforcement administrative complaint and disciplinary hearing that could suspend or revoke his law enforcement certificate. Voters will have to decide whether this disqualifies him from the mayor’s position.
Besides public safety, Poston’s motivations for another term include continuing with job creation and business growth while managing city money efficiently and restraining taxes. For mayor of Bradenton, the Bradenton Herald Editorial Board recommends Wayne Poston.
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.