Politics & Government

Challenger ousts Bemis Smith from Bradenton City Council

Bill Sanders talks about his future as a Bradenton City Councilman

Challenger Bill Sanders, in Bradenton's Ward 3, shocks long-time incumbent Bemis Smith in Tuesday's general election with a convincing victory.
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Challenger Bill Sanders, in Bradenton's Ward 3, shocks long-time incumbent Bemis Smith in Tuesday's general election with a convincing victory.

Challenger Bill Sanders defeated four-term incumbent Bemis Smith to win the Ward 4 Bradenton City Council seat while Patrick Roff will serve another four-year term after voters decided Tuesday’s general election.

Sanders, who self funded his entire campaign, jumped out to a strong start in early voting and mail-in ballots taking a 2,250-vote lead before election day votes were tallied. The edge proved to be too much for Smith to overcome as election day votes were tallied.

With all of the precincts reporting, Sanders tallied 10,732 votes, or 61.75 percent, to Smith’s 6,647 or 38.25 percent of the votes.

“I wasn’t going to take any of the good old boy money,” Sanders said. “That’s why I only used my own money because people want an advocate for them. Had I lost, then so be it, but it wouldn’t be for a lack of trying. This team worked hard. We knocked on 10,000 doors, working evenings and weekends.”

It was a bitter race out of the gate.

The race had already taken a negative turn, but went in a bizarre direction in late October when Sanders accused Smith, or his supporters, of cutting his brake lines. Sanders filed a criminal complaint but a police investigation revealed the lines were rusted out.

Sanders acknowledged he didn’t get off to the best start with voters coming off angry at a Tiger Bay debate, but said it wasn’t anger, it was passion. He promises to rid city hall of what he calls an environment of corruption and dealing favors behind closed doors.

ELXBradenton photo MY 1.jpg
Bradenton’s newest city councilman, as of Jan. 2, will be Bill Sanders after he defeated long-time Councilman Bemis Smith in Tuesday’s general election. Sanders said he is committed to ridding city of good old boy politics and return transparency to the voters. Mark Young myoung@bradenton.com

“I may only be a one-term councilman, but I could care less,” Sanders said. “I did this for a reason and that reason is because I didn’t like what I was seeing and I’m going to do everything I can to expose it.”

Smith did not immediately return a phone call for comment, but Sanders said Smith had to be asked to leave the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office when the results first posted. Sanders said Smith cursed at him and approached him in a threatening manner and Smith was asked to leave.

Bradenton Police say there is no evidence that city council candidate Bill Sanders' brake line was tampered with. He had told police he thought City Council member Bemis Smith was involved.

In the end, Bradenton voters opted for change, ousting Smith from a seat he held since 2002. Sanders will be sworn into office in January.

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Roff cruises to Ward 1 victory

In stark contrast to the Ward 4 campaign, Bradenton’s Ward 3 race was quiet throughout the campaign. Roff rolled to an easy victory over Winn, scoring 10,642 votes, or 62.28 percent, to Winn’s 6,550 votes, or 38.10 percent.

The two candidates rarely exchanged barbs with the one exception of their first debate.

Winn didn’t necessarily attack Roff, but criticized the city council in general for being too “homogenous” and “like-minded” with not enough diversity in their backgrounds. Roff responded that if Winn could ever find the time to actually attend a city council meeting, she would find that not to be the case.

That was the extent of the two directing comments at one another as both candidates remained focus on the issues and kept their pledge to keep their campaigns positive.

Roff secures his fourth term in office after first being elected in 2006.

“First off, I want to say I very much appreciate all those people who have supported me,” Roff said. “I’m very appreciative to the citizens of this town that they have once again put their trust in me and I consider it not only an honor, but a responsibility.”

Roff said he will continue to expand the success he has in neighborhood revitalization with an emphasis on the Village of the Arts and the 14th Street corridor.

“I have long said the Village and that corridor is tied to the future of the city,” Roff said. “I ran a textbook campaign and am very proud of the race we ran. We just hit every check on the list and that’s the way I do business and that’s what is next for the city.”

Winn said she appreciated the support she received during the campaign and from the voters who checked her name at the ballot.

“When I think of the tally of money spent it was less than $1,000 for me versus a candidate who raised more than anyone else,” Winn said. “So for it being a David versus Goliath situation, I’m pretty happy with the results. Campaigning was a very positive experience and I’m really glad I did it and definitely won’t say I wouldn’t do it again. I’d encourage anyone who is educated and motivated in it that if you think about running, to do it. You won’t be disappointed even if you lose because you’ll get to know the issues and the people of this great city.”

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