MANATEE — Political newcomer Sundae Lynn Knight portrayed her veteran opponent as a professional politician influenced by business interests Wednesday during a Manatee County Commission candidate forum.
Knight, a Democrat, said Republican incumbent Carol Whitmore has collected 25 percent of her campaign funds from “developers and developers’ interests,” an indication Whitmore may side with business in disputes with county residents.
Whitmore enjoyed a $78,135-$2,757.80 fundraising advantage over Knight through Sept. 10.
“Many of my supporters have expressed to me they’re tired of the pay-to-play politics that seems to have taken over county government,” said Knight, an energy engineer. “Citizens really want people in office who listen to their concerns and take appropriate action, not people who seem to cater to the chief financiers of their political campaign. I want to be that voice.”
Knight and Whitmore, who are squaring off for the District 6 at-large seat in the Nov. 2 general election, met in one of two forums televised live on Manatee Educational Television and sponsored by METV, the Bradenton Herald and the League of Women Voters.
District 4 candidates Republican Robin DiSabatino and Democrat Roger C. Galle met in the other forum.
Both seats carry four-year terms and pay $74,764 per year. All county voters will decide the District 6 winner, while only District 4 voters will cast ballots in that race.
Bradenton Herald Editorial Page Editor Chris Wille moderated both forums. He asked the candidates about budget priorities, extra funding for public safety, ideas for job growth and the influence of developers on commissioners.
Whitmore, a former Holmes Beach commissioner and mayor, responded to Knight’s charges by pointing out that she held a full-time position as a registered nurse before committing all of her time to being a commissioner after winning her seat in 2006. Whitmore said she took an $18,000 pay cut when she became a full-time commissioner.
“I’m the best candidate because I demonstrate a commitment to the citizens of this county by devoting full-time to this position. ... This is not a time to learn on the job,” Whitmore said.
Later in the forum, Whitmore said of developers’ influence, “I’m in nobody’s pocket, and I never have been.”
All four candidates agreed that additional funding for the sheriff’s office is a high priority. All but Knight suggested a voter referendum to determine whether a property tax millage increase should be levied to update the department’s equipment. Knight said she would be willing to pay extra taxes to fund the sheriff’s office.
DiSabatino and Galle clashed over priorities when it comes to representing their district, which spans the southeast corner of the county and includes several older neighborhoods they said have been neglected. Galle said he will focus mainly on the needs of his district, while DiSabatino took a wider approach.
“If elected, my only interest would be the interest of the people of District 4. I think they need a voice,” Galle said.
Said DiSabatino, “When you’re elected from the people of your district, you’re elected to represent the people in your district. But you also hear issues from all over the county. If all don’t work together for the betterment of the whole county, it’s not going to work.”