MANATEE — Of the five candidates vying for two separate Manatee County Commission seats in Tuesday’s primary, only one is running on a record of past accomplishments.
That may be good, or it may not be, for Commissioner Gwen Brown, depending on the voting public’s fickle feeling for incumbents and its evaluation of her 16 years on the commission.
Brown, who faces teacher and attorney Michael Gallen in the District 2 race, is confident her service will attract more voters than it repels.
“I think it’s an advantage because when you don’t have a record all you have is promises of what you’re going to do,” said Brown, a 58-year-old Palmetto resident. “When you’ve served, anything you talk about doing, people can see what you’ve already done.”
Because there are no other candidates, the Democratic primary race between Brown and Gallen will determine who will occupy the seat.
In District 4, three candidates — newcomers Robin DiSabatino, Norm Luppino and Tim Norwood — will compete for the Republican Party nod. The winner will face Democrat Roger C. Galle in the Nov. 2 general election for the seat being vacated by Ron Getman.
County commissioners serve four-year terms and earn $74,764 per year.
District 2 covers downtown Bradenton and Palmetto and portions of East Manatee. District 4 spans south central Manatee County, from Sarasota Bay in the west to Tallevast in the east.
Brown said she hopes voters notice things like the road construction on 17th Street in Palmetto and the improvements at Pride Park on their way to the polls.
“I go out there sometimes to just look at the families that are enjoying that park now,” Brown said of Pride Park.
Gallen, a 36-year-old American government teacher at Lakewood Ranch High who lives in Bradenton, agreed that Brown’s incumbency gives her an advantage in name recognition and fundraising. Brown outspent Gallen $25,907.16 to $8,229.67 in campaign finance records released Aug. 6.
But Brown’s record as a commissioner is nothing to tout, Gallen said. He has been stressing the importance of ethics and integrity throughout the campaign.
“My opponent’s been there 16 years, and we had a problem with non-diversity of jobs long before the recession hit,” Gallen said. “As a constituent, I felt we needed someone else in office.”
In District 4, DiSabatino, a 57-year-old Realtor and broker associate who lives in the Cascades subdivision, holds a huge lead in campaign fundraising and spending. She collected $115,155 and spent $63,843, while Luppino raised $16,201 and spent $10,273, according to election records. Norwood collected $2,294 and spent $2,024.
DiSabatino said she used the financial advantage to hit her constituents with campaign mailers. But she also has been going door to door, telling neighborhoods about her priorities of jobs, safety and lower taxes.
“We’re very energized,” DiSabatino said. “We’re excited for the people in our district. They want someone to represent them.”
Luppino, a 51-year-old professional planner who lives in Whitfield Estates, said his experience working for the county planning department will allow him to step right in and make a difference providing jobs and neighborhood stabilization.
“I think they’re looking for someone to hit the ground running,” Luppino said of voters. “These are probably the most challenging times our generation has faced.”
Norwood, a 48-year-old manufacturing engineer and Tea Party Republican who lives in Bayshore Gardens, said job creation, not neighborhood improvements, is the most important issue in the race.
He said DiSabatino’s spending advantage will not play a role in the race.
“Is that really a lead?” Norwood asked. “I have spent a small percentage of what my opponents have spent. And there’s not a person in this county who hasn’t heard of Tim Norwood. ... I don’t owe my votes to anyone, except voters.”