Fredd Atkins runs for Sarasota County Commission in different political environment

Fredd Atkins runs for Sarasota County Commission in different political environment

Jacob Ogles


Sarasota’s first black mayor has turned his sights once again on the Sarasota County Commission.

Fredd Atkins filed as a candidate in District 1, where the Democrat presumably will challenge incumbent Republican Mike Moran.

“I just believe this is a tremendous, historical opportunity to elect me as the first Democratic county commissioner in over 50 years,” Atkins said.

Atkins lost to Moran in a countywide vote in 2016. But his most recent political move comes as voters prepare for the first election since approving single-member voting.

He also jumps in just as county commissioners plan to redraw county districts, an outward response to the single-member switch. It could be that Atkins doesn’t live in District 1 come candidate qualifying, but he still expects to run.

He suggests that if commissioners insist on reapportionment before the 2020 Census, there’s a legal argument all five districts should go up for vote. That’s what happens when the Florida Senate redistricts every decade.

It also happened in the city of Sarasota in the 1980s when single-member districts were put into place. That change happened thanks to a lawsuit filed by the NAACP, a case won in large part on intense research by a then 30-something Atkins. The court victory marked Atkins own entry into politics.

In 1985, he became Sarasota’s first black city commissioner, representing minority-rich District 1. A couple years later, he was named by peers on the Commission as mayor.

But Atkins has never been able to win a wider jurisdiction. He ran for an at-large seat on the city commission in 2017 and lost. And he’s run for county before.

For the moment, Democrats make up a plurality of voters in Sarasota County Commission District 1. The seat also represents the greatest concentration of black and Hispanic voters, according to a recent analysis by redistricting consultant Kurt Spitzer.

Also, Atkins would have beat Moran in 2016 had only votes in District 1 have counted.

So Atkins could have an edge heading into 2020. Or the entire district could be changed to make his run less advantageous. But even if that happens, he’s happy to point out funny business.

“It should be rather obvious the county commission is trying to redraw the lines to significantly affect the campaign,” Atkins said.

“I’m running to provide the face of who they are trying to get out of the process.”

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Former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins running for County Commission

Former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins running for County Commission

Zac Anderson


Atkins served for 18 years on the Sarasota City Commission

Former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins is taking another shot at trying to win a seat on the Sarasota County Commission.

Atkins, a Democrat, filed Wednesday to run for the District 1 seat currently held by GOP County Commissioner Mike Moran.

“This is an historic election for the county, and certainly for me,” Atkins said in a news release. “For too long this commission has turned its back on the citizens of the county by allowing over-development, ignoring key environmental issues and not facilitating access to affordable housing for everyone.”

A native of Sarasota, Atkins served on the Sarasota City Commission for 18 years. He lost three previous races for a County Commission seat, and lost a 2017 bid to return to the City Commission.

But in the previous county elections Atkins had to run countywide. The new single-member district system of selecting commissioners means only voters in each district can vote in those races.

District 1 currently has more Democrats than Republicans, although the commission is in the midst of redrawing the district boundaries.

Atkins carried District 1, which includes a portion of northern Sarasota County, when he ran in 2016, but lost the countywide vote.

“If the commission does not gerrymander this district, we definitely will be favored to win,” Atkins said. “If they do change the district, we will just work harder. We have a loyal and energetic team of volunteers determined to win this election — from all backgrounds that represent the diversity of the district.”

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Atkins Files In District 1, Whatever That May Be

Atkins Files In District 1, Whatever That May Be

Jacob Ogles


Former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkinswill run for Sarasota County Commission, no matter what district lines look like.

“It should be rather obvious the county commission is trying to redraw the lines to significantly affect the campaign,” Atkins said. “I’m running to provide the face of who they are trying to get out of the process.”

Atkins last week filed as candidate in District 1. That’s the same district where the Democrat was defeated by Republican Mike Moran in 2016, but this year brings a decidedly different political landscape. With passage of single-member districts, commissioners will no longer be selected by county-wide vote but by only voters within their district.

At least for the moment, Democratic voters make up a plurality in District 1. The district also boasts the highest concentration of black and Hispanic voters in the county.

In so many ways, Atkins sees this election as a parallel to his entry into politics in the late 1980s. After working for years with the NAACP to force Sarasota to go from city-wide races to having three district races, Atkins in 1985 ran and became Sarasota’s first black city commissioner. A couple years later he was elected mayor.

Now he wants to be Sarasota County’s first Democratic commissioner in more than 50 years. He’s always disliked at-large elections, which he said unfairly superimpose a majority view in a large area across all smaller communities in a jurisdiction.

He promises to bring change in a number of ways to county dialogue. That includes reducing the influence of developers and increasing transparency of meetings, he said.

He also hopes to take some lessons he demonstrated at the city for solving the county’s affordable housing crisis. “I tore down shacks and shanties and quarters and put in attainable housing that working class people can afford to buy,” he said, pointing at work by the Sarasota Housing Authority.

The county has turned away from mechanisms like community redevelopment areas to list blighted areas and improve housing options, but he believes, with a seat at the dais, he can direct the conversation toward progress.

Atkins is the first candidate to file for the 2020 election in County Commission District 1.

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