Former Sarasota Mayor Kerry Kirschner dead at 73
Former Sarasota Mayor Kerry Kirschner. Screenshot from C-SPAN

Business leader served two years on the Sarasota City Commission.

Former Sarasota Mayor Kerry Kirschner died Wednesday, after decades of contributions as a political and business leader.

He was 73.

Kirschner served two terms on the Sarasota City Commission, first winning election in 1985. For two years, he held the Mayor’s gavel.

He later led The Argus Foundation until his retirement.

“We really need to dedicate ourselves, both through our community and our elected officials, to be what we want to be in the future,” Kirschner told SRQ Magazine in 2016.

Son Kelly Kirschner, who would later be elected to the Commission and become Mayor himself, said he will remember his father first as a family man. He said his commitment to community and the world around him laid a foundation for his children to follow.

The younger Kirschner for years has marveled at how his father left a corporate job at Revlon in Manhattan to move his family in 1976 back to the Sarasota-Bradenton area where he was born and raised.

“But that was how he acted as a father and as a person,” Kirschner said. “He was comfortable with risk but also prioritized quality of life and his family too.”

During his time on the Sarasota City Commission, Kirschner played a critical role in obtaining an Environmental Protection Agency grant. The allowed a massive reduction in the pouring of polluted water into Sarasota Bay and established the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, still in existence today.

Former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins, elected the same year as Kirschner, said it was Kirschner’s personal connections in President Bill Clinton’s administration that helped the city secure the grant.

But Atkins also recalls a more bizarre moment he and Kirschner shared. A debate over regulating thong bathing suits made headlines at the time. That attracted the attention of The Phil Donahue Show.

Kirschner begged Atkins, who favored regulation, to appear on the show and argue the issue with him on national television. “So I went and performed, and they went and performed,” Atkins said.

The episode became a hit, aired in reruns for years and showing Sarasota’s now-world-famous beaches to a national audience.

After his time in public office came to an end, Kirschner took a job as the second Executive Director for The Argus Foundation.

Christine Robinson, who succeeded Kirschner in the job, first met the leader when she served on the Sarasota County Commission. She recalls lengthy arguments, but also numerous legends.

“I’m going to miss him terribly,” Robinson said.

Kirschner is succeeded by wife LuAnn. He also had four children, Sean, Kent, Kelly and Katie Haas.

A service will be held for Kirschner Saturday at 10 a.m. at Saint Martha Catholic Church in Downtown Sarasota.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Casey Colburn

    March 5, 2020 at 9:50 pm

    RIP, Kerry. More than once, you showed-up for the little guy/gal. You stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their (then) new-to-town lawyer against unjust actions of local government bullies and crooks when no one else dared. I’ll be forever grateful for, and inspired by, those moments. God bless the Kirschner family. May his memory be a blessing.

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