‘Them or us’ in Anna Maria election
The race for the three Anna Maria City Commission seats up for election Nov. 3 is being called the “most important election in this city in 30 years” by several of the candidates.
Like it or not, the five candidates now find themselves lumped into groups, either “them” or “us,” with claims that some candidates are pro-business or pro-resident, while others are said to be “divisive.”
Speaking at The Islander “Popcorn and Politics” forum Oct. 19 for all Island candidates, incumbent Anna Maria Commissioner Christine Tollette said she cannot understand how the city became so divided on the issue of residents and businesses.
“We are supposed to sit down and talk about issues,” she said, “not name-call each other and talk about ‘them’ and ‘us.’ We have to support the city, but not as factions.”
Tollette told the estimated 200 listeners that her main goal if re-elected is to preserve the “cottage-like atmosphere and residential quality” of Anna Maria, while at the same time maintaining the city’s Pine Avenue business district.
And that’s the stated goal of the comprehensive plan approved in 2007 by all five city commissioners, she said.
“I am not here to call names, but to call us together,” Tollette said.
In his first time running for a political office, candidate Harry Stoltzfus said the crucial issue facing the voters of Anna Maria is whether they want commissioners who are pro-business or commissioners who are pro-residential.
“This is a most critical time in Anna Maria,” he said.
“We have very large and important issues and the different stances are huge and definable. But the election should always be about people.”
If elected, Stoltzfus pledged he would “maintain the residential character of the city,” and would re-examine the city’s retail-office-residential zoning ordinance and amendments.
Stoltzfus has claimed that too many concessions have been given to businesses in the ROR.
At the same time, Stoltzfus said he supports a viable business community in Anna Maria. He’s not against growth, just uncontrolled growth.
An Internet blog — ourannamaria.blogspot.com — has urged voters to vote for Stoltzfus and incumbent commissioners Dale Woodland and John Quam, who are both seeking re-election.
The same blog has alleged that city planner Alan Garrett is also working for developers, and there are not enough “pro-residential” commissioners.
Mayor Fran Barford, who is not up for re-election, said the anonymous writers on the blog have contributed to the divisiveness in the city and in the election campaign.
The writers’ accusations also have harmed the reputation and professionalism of the city staff, while the bloggers hide behind anonymity, she said.
Stoltzfus, Woodland and Quam all have distanced themselves from the blog statements about Garrett and claim they are not running collectively as a slate of candidates.
Stoltzfus, however, has said there are not enough “pro-residential” members of the commission.
Woodland, who said he has always run as his own candidate, is concerned that the election appears to be about “them” or “us,” not electing candidates who will work together for the good of the city.
“It’s sad it has come to this,” he said. “This is an important election, maybe the most important ever in the city.”
Woodland said his voting record and his actions and work for the city the past six years speak for him.
“I love this job. I am the luckiest guy on the planet. I love Anna Maria. I grew up here and I can’t think of anyplace else I want to live. The city always comes first for me. Everyone knows where I stand on the issues.”
Candidate David Gryboski, who is seeking his first political office, said the blog site is just dividing the people when people should come together to resolve issues, not fight over the issues.
He, too, wondered why it has come to “them” or “us,” and said it has created a polarizing atmosphere in the city.
“It’s unnecessary. Let’s get over it and talk about the issues and protect our neighborhoods,” he said.
The idea that he or any of the other candidates favor the business community over the residents is ridiculous, Gryboski said.
“We are a residential community. We do have a business district that we have to maintain for its ambiance and the good of the city,” he said.
Commissioner Quam also said he is running as his own candidate and not part of any group.
“I have always run as my own person,” he said.
Quam believes this is the “most important election in Anna Maria in some time,” because of a number of issues, including development and the budget. He said the commission has many land-development regulations to revise to match the comprehensive plan.
At the same time, city revenues continue to decline. He sees the next budget as the No. 1 issue for the new commission, not battling over who favors business and who favors residents.
“We are always a residential community first,” he said.
Quam believes that the voters realize the importance of the election and will be able to distinguish between “them” and “us.”
Who is “them” and who is “us” will likely be decided at the polls Nov. 3.
Islander straw vote
A straw vote at The Islander “Politics and Popcorn” forum Oct. 20 produced the following votes for Anna Maria’s five candidates running for the three vacant city commission seats up for election Nov. 3.
• Christine Tollette103
• David Gryboski93
• John Quam 37
• Dale Woodland 37
• Harry Stoltzfus31