Those in Sarasota politics know Martin Hyde has a temper. But he says he wasn’t thinking about politics Tuesday when he got in an argument at the Bath & Racquet Club. The fight seemed to end his political ambitions before week’s end, though right now he said he may yet continue a run for Sarasota City Commission.
By Hyde’s account, a group of rowdy teenagers, non-members, were disrupting his son’s private instruction time. So he got into a shouting match. One of those players started filming Hyde as he asked managers to have the young men tossed out.
“I’m a member of the club,” Hyde says at one point. “These kids are not.”
“These kids, what, spend $50 a year?”
“I don’t know what drugs they are on.”
The most caustic comment Hyde allegedly made wasn’t captured on film, but one of the players can be heard accusing Hyde of telling the Puerto Rican teens to “cut some grass.” It’s an accusation one of the boys, Sergio Dilan, later repeated on Twitter.
“The asshole tells us ‘go cut grass’ referring to us as workers and as if that is the only thing we serve,” Dilan wrote. “That’s when things took a turn of 360. We had never felt more upset, frustrated, uncomfortable and sad.”
El pendejo nos dice “ go cut grass” refiriendose a nosotros como trabajadores y como si eso es lo unico de lo que nosotros servimos. Ahi fue cuando las cosas cojieron una vuelta de 360. Nunca nos habiamos sentido mas molesto, frustrado, incomodo y triste.
— Sergiodilanpr (@sergiodilan101) November 30, 2019
But the entire episode wasn’t something Hyde thought much about most of Thanksgiving week. It wasn’t until Friday when the club raised the altercation again with Hyde. By that point, Hyde’s candidacy appeared dead whether he knew it yet or not — but that would become the least of his concerns.
The entire episode had gone viral, with the video featured on the websites Latino Rebels , which has covered US Latino politics since 2011, and the internationally read El Nuevo Dia. Hyde was fielding phone calls from CBS News’ David Begnaud. A screenshot of him angrily shouting down a minor soon adorned the website Heavy.com, which featured the video and surfaced some years-old accusations made by Hyde’s ex-wife that resulted in a call to Sarasota police.
“If I had a Kellyanne Conway who could have deflected, or whatever people do at that level, maybe I could go on,” Hyde said. “But I was caught up in the middle of something and I was panicked.” By Saturday afternoon, Hyde pulled the plug on his campaign. By Sunday, he remained an emotional mess, concerned what his son will face as school as a result of the whole affair.
And late Sunday evening, Hyde said he may just stick this out after all.
“A significant number have asked that I re-consider my decision to withdraw from running in 2020 so I’m going to do that,” Hyde wrote on a public Facebook page. “It’s not that I don’t have regret over my behavior but I also have certain knowledge of who I really am and that the best place to prove that is publicly.”
A caustic Hyde berating Sarasota City Commissioners over spending decisions or calling into question the leadership of Sarasota administration? That’s on display most Mondays when the gadfly takes three minutes of Citizen Comment to air his own set of grievances.
A humbled side to Hyde? That isn’t so well known to the Sarasota public. But on Sunday, Hyde sounded defensive, wounded, and he had shut down his political campaign completely. But even there, he wondered if he acted too brashly.
“A girl has a right to change her mind and so do I,” Hyde told Florida Politics. “I’m not saying for sure I’m just saying I’m reconsidering. Truthfully, a significant number of people said I’d jumped too soon and others that called me urged me to carry on. I made a mistake and I want to rectify it. I’m wondering if I can do that better in than out.”
He wonders if his political chances in an election set for August will truly be hurt by video of him losing his temper in November.
“I suspect like most of these things, over time it would diminish,” he said. “A certain number would still vote for me. But every mailer in whole second half of the race would have got nasty, calling me racist, all the way down the line.”
That’s his prediction for a presumed run-off. Sarasota just changed its election procedures so that if more than two candidates run for a District seat (three have filed so far in Hyde’s District 2 race and incumbent Liz Alpert is expected to run), there will be a November runoff between the top two candidates. Should he make the cut, Hyde imagines accusation of racism will dominate his life.
Hyde ran citywide for a Sarasota City Commission seat in 2017, coming in third place. He did well enough at the time to unseat a City Commissioner, Susan Chapman, before the spring runoff but ultimately came in third in a runoff behind now Commissioners Jennifer Ahearn-Koch and Hagen Brody.
It was during that race old allegations from his ex-wife came up dating to an angry custody dispute. A report to police allowed opponents to paint him as an angry crank with a poor temperament. Hyde largely laughed that off or tried to use it to his advantage in intervening years, bluntly critiquing city government with regularity. But that also feeds into accusations plaguing him now.
That election, he also got in a brush over illegal coordination between his campaign and a Republican Party-connected political committee, something he confessed to in a radio interview apparently unaware he was violating state law. Hyde this year was fined $1,500 by the Florida Elections Commission, and said he felt “thrown under the bus” by the Republican Party.
But nothing prepared Hyde for the difficult virality of this argument. Hyde maintains the young men were just acting loud. He never said anything about cutting grass. He didn’t even consider the nationality of the young men; he himself is a British immigrant. But imagery of an angry middle-aged white man chastising a group of Latino youth in a fancy Sarasota club and making clear he thought he had more right to be there than the day visitors, it all created a toxic viral cocktail that would take over Hyde’s life for a weekend.
Making Of Virality
The video of Hyde was posted on Twitter at 2:04 p.m. Friday by Alvin Couto de Jesús, a media content creator and former campaign director for the Working People’s Party of Puerto Rico. That effectively nationalized the story before local media had ever heard about the dispute. Latino Rebels, for example, had its own story up within minutes of that original tweet, and quickly got family of Dilan on record.
A variety of Spanish-audience media picked up on the video Friday. By Saturday morning, Sarasota politicos were sharing stories on private Facebook groups.
“At first it didn’t really dawn on me the size of it,” Hyde said. “you know I don’t have a press team or a campaign manager. I’m just one guy, faced with the walls closing in on him.”
He originally thought calls from Begnaud were a hoax, then saw comments on official Facebook page for the reporter, who had covered the collapse of Puerto Rico’s government. Hyde never heard of the website Latino Rebels, and could scarcely believe it’s reach. Soon, his own social media was flooded with caustic remarks, forcing him to take it all dark.
Saturday afternoon, Hyde told the Herald-Tribune he would withdraw as a candidate. But his concerns had gone beyond that. Online, he received numerous death threats. He didn’t take any that serious, but sent his 12-year-old to stay with other family. On Sunday, he said he had not left the house in two days, and wasn’t sure when that would change.
An email to city leaders and local press made clear he was withdrawing not only from the political race but his regular appearances at City Commission meetings.
“I will not return to City Hall in any capacity going forward,” he wrote. “I will be sending back this week all of the donations that I’ve received. I had already been considering in recent months whether my involvement was a good thing for me and those around me as my manner (or lack of manners) has tended to obviate any value from my comments. The injustice of being tried in the court of public opinion should resonate with those of you that believe in due process.”
Now he believes it may be best to quell a public controversy in public rather than hoping it dies down. But communications from Hyde still make clear he could close up his shop if things can’t under control soon.
He still wonders if he can weather the storm, but he wants headlines to stop.
“The World we live in has lots of upside in terms of the way information is used but I’ve experienced the flip side which is being the focus of negativity on it and it’s deeply disturbing,” he said.
“Some boorish and rude behavior on my part that isn’t right has been turned into a virtually capital offense. I don’t seek to diminish my faults and limitations but I’m more decent and honest than I am anything else.”