(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
BRADENTON BEACH — Former Bradenton Beach Vice Mayor Jack Clarke is the city’s mayor-elect after winning a tight race Tuesday with just 13 more votes than ousted Mayor William Shearon.
“I’m very pleased,” Clarke said Tuesday evening. “I’m most pleased that we finally got to the point where the people made the choice, so we didn’t have to horse around with the forfeiture.”
According to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections website, 182 residents — or 50.84 percent of Bradenton Beach voters — wanted a recall. A total of 174 residents — or 48.6 percent — voted against a recall.
The recall triggered a mayoral vote between Clarke and Shearon. Clarke received 185 votes, or 51.68 percent, while Shearon received 172 votes or 48.04 percent.
Inside Island Time Bar and Grill, 111 Gulf Dr. S., Bradenton Beach on Tuesday evening, a beaming Clarke stood surrounded by his wife, Karen Clarke, and more than a dozen cheering supporters.
“We’re starting over again from day one,” Clarke told them before thanking them.
While results were still unofficial earlier in the evening, Clarke said he received a concession call from Shearon. In the voicemail, Shearon congratulated Clarke and called him the mayor-elect. He added they’ll battle it out in November.
“It is what it is. The voters spoke,” Shearon said when reached by phone Tuesday night. “I lost by eight votes, but eight votes is eight votes (in reference to the recall question on ballot). The voters have made their decision and, like I told you before, I get my life back for six months here and then I’ll be running in November and hopefully the voters will have an opportunity to evaluate what Mayor Clarke has done in six months.”
The recall election between the embattled mayor and Clarke closed a chapter begun late last year when a petition committee to recall Shearon was formed. Documents sent to the city listed longtime Bradenton Beach resident Peter Barreda as chairman of the Committee to Recall William Shearon.
Bradenton Beach Commission meetings have been high tension since last year. In mid-September, Clarke listed examples of what he said were Shearon’s failures, including city staffing issues, lack of transparency and hostile work environment claims.
In early December, Clarke said had no personal ax to grind against Shearon, nor did he have any aspirations to serve as mayor. At a May 6 candidate forum held by the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, Clarke spoke of the city’s need to start fresh.
“My approach to management would really improve morale,” Clarke said, claiming city employees talk with him about issues they can’t resolve through normal channels.
The recall election hit a snag last month when 72-year-old Bradenton Beach resident John Metz filed a lawsuit against Clarke, Barreda and Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett.
Metz, a Shearon supporter and a regular at city meetings with his wife, Lee Anne Metz, requested a temporary injunction before the May 19 election. He wanted Clarke booted from the recall ballot and a temporary injunction prohibiting Bennett from printing additional recall ballots with the vice mayor’s name on them.
Metz claimed Clarke’s written resignation had not been submitted at least 10 days prior to the first day of qualifying for the office. Clarke had to resign from his commission seat before submitting an application to qualify as a candidate in the recall election.
Clarke testified at a May 5 court hearing there was no way he could have applied sooner to qualify in the recall election.
Manatee Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith Jr. ruled the recall election could move forward. Metz later dismissed his suit.
Metz and his wife stood by Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach on Tuesday afternoon holding signs and waving at cars.
“We’re trying to get some votes for Bill Shearon for mayor and to stop the recall,” Metz said, his face shaded by a hat. “Obviously I don’t like the lack of civility in the council and I think that, unfortunately, I would say Mr. Clarke’s been the main perpetrator and I’m hoping after the election that maybe that disruption will be removed.”
Farther down on Gulf Drive stood Jim Lynch, a Clarke supporter, with a sign. Lynch said he voted originally for Shearon.
“However, after he got elected, I started watching what was going on, reading in the paper, attending some meetings and I just didn’t like the way that he was handling the city,” Lynch said. “This is the Democratic way to undo my vote and I’m trying to do it the right way.”
On the corner of 23rd Street North and Avenue C, Fawzy Makar stood near the Annie Silver Community Center polling place. In his left hand was a sign: “NO RECALL.”
The 68-year-old Bradenton Beach resident was there to show support for Shearon. Makar, who sits on the Bradenton Beach Planning & Zoning Board, said it was not right to pursue the recall.
“We do not recall the president of the United States. We do not recall the governor of Florida. Why we recalling the mayor? It don’t make sense,” he said. “Let him finish his term and, after that, if the citizens do not like him, maybe they don’t elect him again. Let somebody else take over.”
For a small city, Makar said, he considered the recall election “far worse than abuse” of time and energy. He also described the tensions in City Hall over the past year as unnecessary.
“They spend a lot of energy in meetings talking about these issues… violating Sunshine Law, violating this… harassment here, harassment there,” Makar said, adding nothing has really supported the claims brought forth against the mayor.
“Maybe his (Shearon’s) management style is a little bit different than the other peoples but you have to live with it,” he said. “You have to adjust to management style and keep forward.”
A short time later, Maryann Lefevre, a resident of Bradenton Beach for at least 12 years, walked out of the community center after voting.
“Issues were brought up and I’m glad they were looked into,” the 54-year-old said, “and if something needs to be done, I’m really glad that the voters are allowed to do something about it.”