What proved not to be a typical election cycle for a Bradenton City Council seat carried over to what was not a typical swearing in ceremony Wednesday morning as bad blood highlighted the kickoff to a new year.
Ward 4 Councilman Bill Sanders was sworn into office after a historic victory on Election Day in November, unseating long-time former councilman Bemis Smith in a landslide victory. It was the first time a sitting councilman running for reelection had been defeated in 11 years.
Notably absent from the ceremony was Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo, who left the dais just before Sanders was sworn in and then returned shortly after the ceremony. Sanders was invited from his seat in the gallery to officially take his councilman seat and he walked down the line of other councilman shaking their hands.
Except when he reached Gallo, who refused to take Sanders’ extended hand.
After the meeting, Gallo said, “I’m going to tell you point blank. When that man ran for office and said we were all corrupt and did backdoor deals, if he thinks we are so crooked, I don’t want nothing to do with him. I heard him say after the election he didn’t mean it and he only said it because that’s what his people running his campaign told him he had to do win. Well, he needs to make a public apology to the people in this building, and I mean everybody, not just elected officials.”
Gallo said city employees remain upset over the comments Sanders made during the campaign about the city in general.
“If he thinks that, then I have no use for him,” Gallo said. “I’m not speaking for anyone else, but I don’t like that. I’ve been in this business for a long time, since 1960 serving this city and I’ve never saw a campaign as nasty as the one that man ran.”
It was an ugly race between Sanders and Smith that ran negative from the start and culminated with criminal complaints filed by Sanders accusing Smith or his supporters of cutting his brake lines, which proved to be unfounded, according to the Bradenton Police Department, which investigated the complaints.
Gallo went on to serve as Smith’s representative at a Nov. 27 ballot review. Smith called for the review, unconvinced that after four terms and no public controversy that the voters would turn against him in such a dramatic fashion.
Swearing in ceremonies often draw in family and friends of the officials taking or retaking their prospective seats. Some audience members called Gallo’s actions “rude.” Mayor Wayne Poston said he will remind new and old council members alike that they take an oath of civility that he expects the council to abide by.
“We have one who never forgets and one who never forgives,” Poston said. “But I will remind them of their oath at the next meeting. If we didn’t have to abide by the Sunshine Law, I’d sit them down across from one another and let them work it out.”
Sanders said it wasn’t something he’ll let get to him, but he chastised Gallo’s actions.
“I’ve been in sports all my life so I never, ever not shook a man’s hand if he beat me,” Sanders said. “What you do is go back and practice more. It’s very disrespectful and shows who you are. Lose or win, you shake the man’s hand. It’s not right, but I’m moving on from all of this and it’s not going to bother me.
“I would love to have a beer with the man and work it out some day, but I’m here to work for the people. I work for them and will continue to work for them.”
Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff, who cruised to a re-election victory in November, was sworn into his fourth term, while Vice Mayor Gene Brown begins his third term after running unopposed last year. Brown was elected in 2012 to finish Marianne Barnebey’s term aftrer she vacated her seat in an unsuccessful bid for mayor.
This will be Brown’s second full four-year term.