Does money count any more?
Not once but twice recently, Sarasota voters stunned the "experts" who preach that "money talks" and that money would decide both the strong mayor vote in the city and, a week later, the county-wide extra-mill referendum for our schools.
The Chamber of Commerce and its big business buddies like Sarasota Ford's Vern Buchanan and the Argus Foundation spent an astounding $111,000--$51.82 for every one of the 2,142 votes garnered supporting its strong mayor proposal--and lost the election better than two to one.
Outspent more than three to one, the No Boss Mayor Committee headed by folks like former City Commissioner Molly Cardamone and business consultant Ken Shelin raised and spent just $33,000--or $6.53 each for the 5022 votes it garnered in its landslide win.
It also probably didn't hurt that they called the strong mayor movement "an attempted coup."
Then, just one week later, the voters-again by roughly two to one-said yes to paying another mill of property taxes to keep Sarasota's schools maybe the best in Florida. And judging from how the voters reacted at the polls in approving the school tax referendum, they also see the dead end in the gospel of "No new taxes."
The Florida Legislature decided yet again this year that tax breaks for the party loyal were more important than good schools. But Sarasotans decided not to let the bush-league politicians further wound our children's education.
Both votes made me proud to be a Sarasotan and will be talked about for years to come.
A new salad at the Bijou is getting great word of mouth around town. It's a melange that tastes like purest essence of the best Cobb you've ever eaten. Finely chopped spinach, mushrooms, lettuce, radicchio, bacon, walnuts and hard-boiled egg-and a touch of herb dressing--are basically bound together with Maytag blue cheese.
If you're a Cobb salad fan, this is heaven.
Saigon in Sarasota
Vietnamese food has hit Sarasota. Not one but two Vietnamese restaurants opened downtown recently-a cuisine I first found in Paris, since I was lucky enough to never spend time "in country," as the Viet Nam veterans say.
Nha Trang on Main Street has a bistro atmosphere and a seemingly endless menu of Vietnamese specialties including 15 different rice noodle beef soups-each one a meal in its own right.
Meanwhile, over in Walt's Plaza on North Washington Boulevard, Miss Saigon opened right before press time. It promises a somewhat more upscale atmosphere, but authentic Vietnamese dishes as well.
Drinking with the pros
Every community has a club where the pros drink. Oh, you won't find them there till late at night when the bartenders, waitstaff and kitchen crews begin to drift in usually some time after eleven. But these people do know how to relax.
One of the best spots to drink with the pros in Sarasota is the Raddison on Lido Beach. The bar is small, only about a dozen stools, and if it seems that everybody knows everybody, that's because it's mostly true. This is where they come after work-and you probably won't be surprised to hear the pros are also considered the most generous tippers in town.
They've got mail
Ever want to give public officials a piece of your mind? Say right between the, ah, ears?
Or maybe you want to pat them on the back for something but after two telephone tries when they're "in meetings," you just give it up. Now there's an easy, effective and little-known solution.
Every city and county (and state and federal for that matter) official has an e-mail address. Once you know them, you can just fire at will.
The city has a beautifully designed e-mail system where addresses are simple to figure out. Say you want to communicate with Mayor Carolyn Mason. Her address is email@example.com
Likewise, City Manager Mike McNees' address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the idea? First name and last connected by one underline and all the rest of the addresses are the same.
The county's system isn't so user friendly, but it's workable. For example, County Commission Chair Nora Patterson is email@example.com.
The other county commissioners are dmills, sstaub, jthaxton and pmercier, all at @co.sarasota,fl.us.
Lonnie Ward graduated from Booker High School in 1967 and has done well enough in real estate development along with promoting and producing rhythm and blues music in cities like Atlanta and New Orleans to own a brace of beautifully restored 1959 Bentleys. In addition, he's a member of the board of directors of the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.
Eighteen months ago, fed up with the lack of any economic progress in Newtown, he founded the Sarasota African-American Chamber of Commerce-a group he promises will lead the way in dismantling the economic barriers blacks face in Sarasota.
Q: Why does Sarasota need a chamber for African Americans?
A: The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce is 83 years old and it hasn't ever met the needs of African Americans and other minority businesses anywhere in the county. Bluntly, we'd all like to see some more color there.
After 18 months the African-American Chamber of Commerce has 100 members, more than half of them institutional-banks, foundations, real estate companies and the like. Michael Saunders is a member.
Q: What's the problem?
A: Economically, Sarasota is one of the most segregated cities I've seen anywhere in the nation-and I travel extensively in the entertainment side of my business. Right now my group is causing more minority participation here, and that makes some people nervous. It's such a white thing, but they can't see the needs in the minority neighborhoods.
Look at Newtown--it's all residential and there's a tremendous need to address commercial zoning. For example, U.S.301 is commercial until it gets to Newtown and then there are houses along it. We need real restaurants, grocery stores and all kind of black businesses, but we don't have them because of zoning and land use regulations.
You might say that up to now what the city have been trying to do it keep us a little village. Business growth in Newtown is 50 years overdue and when it happens, it will be positive for all of Sarasota.
Q: What's your plan?
A: Short term we're preparing to begin to assemble property, get on with the rezoning needed and begin working on the economy of the black community.
The city's Newtown Master Plan now being developed--and I'm one of the consultants--is critical because it will identify the land use problems and suggest solutions. And when it's finalized, that's when we'll be going to work actually assembling land, rezoning it and building businesses like those restaurants and grocery stores.
We'll be partner-shipping with the white community, of course, because this is really about the economy, not race. It's really all about figures and good business.
We'll be going to the city looking for real things like rezonings, not crazy stuff like some new plants along M.L.King Way. I'm sure there will be tensions and some people will likely be mad at me. So go ahead and get mad at me, but also go do something real for the black community for a change.
Q: And those Bentleys?
A: (Laughter) Well actually there are three. A 1958 and two '59s, one red and one blue. I've restored and maintain them and they're a hobby. I also just finished a 65-unit subdivision in Manatee County and we're getting started on roughly 100 in-fill houses in Sarasota. I've produced some television specials for rhythm & blues artists and met recently with the mayor of Atlanta about the possibility of putting the Rhythm & Blues Museum there. He wants it and I'm thrilled.