Former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins pulled somewhat of an upset in a Sarasota County Commission race. The Democrat came out on top of a Democratic Primary in County Commission District 2.
Atkins took 3,810 votes, about 35.25% of all cast in the district-level race, and narrowly beat Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody, who brought in 3,704 votes. Activist Mike Cosentino took 3,293 votes.
The win came despite Atkins being significantly outspent. Fundraising reports show through Aug. 18, Atkins raised $38,623 compared to Brody’s $74,914 and Cosentino’s $63,209. But Atkins said that just goes to show community history means more than money in district-level races.
“You cannot buy respect. You can’t buy tradition. You can’t buy a history of a man who has been consistently and persistently fighting for your way of life,” Atkins said. “That’s where we are. We have lived this. We have been disinherited all of our history in Sarasota County. Now finally there is a chance to sneak by and get into the general election.”
He will now face Republican Mark Smith, who won the Republican Primary for District 2 over conservation activist Lourdes Ramirez.
While the Sarasota Commission hasn’t had a Democratic member in decades, this year marks the first time there will be a single-member district election in a Democratic-leaning seat. District 2 as of July had 24,944 active Democratic voters registered, compared to 23,362 active Republican voters.
With County Commissioner Christian Ziegler opting not to seek re-election, that arguably leaves Atkins as a favorite. But Smith has raised substantially more, around $112,950, of which more than $80,000 was spent winning his Primary.
Of note, Atkins fought for the switch to single-member districts. In ways, the fight dates back to the 1980s when he worked with the NAACP on a lawsuit against the city that forced a switch there from citywide elections to electing three single-member Commissioners. That led to Atkins’ election to the City Commission in 1986 and then to him being selected as the city’s first Black Mayor.
He ran for County Commission, including in 2020 against Republican County Commissioner Mike Moran, but was forced out by an off-year redistricting in the county. Atkins sued when he was drawn out of the district where he intended to run, but lost. He announced in April he would run for Ziegler’s seat this year.
In another Sarasota County Commission race, Republican Joe Neunder won the GOP Primary in District 4. He defeated Mark Hawkins with 9,756 votes, around 73.49%, to Hawkins’ 3,520. Neunder will face Democrat Daniel Kuether in November. That district leans comfortably Republican, with 32,492 active GOP voters registered compared to 20,640 active Democratic voters.