SOUTH COUNTY –– The qualifying period for local offices isn’t for another month yet, but that didn’t stop the three candidates for the open District 5 seat from engaging in their first debate of the 2020 election season.
Moderated by Argus Foundation CEO and former Commissioner Christine Robinson, the virtual forum using Zoom technology allowed Alice White, Ron Cutsinger, and Chris Hanks to discuss a wide range of topics from recovery to water quality and issues in between.
Cutsinger, a financial advisor from Englewood, and Hanks, a current North Port city commissioner, will vie for the Republican nomination to replace Commissioner Charles Hines in the August primary election.
The winner will go on to face White, a Democrat and founder of People for Trees in North Port, in the November general election.
Unlike debates at the national or state level, and perhaps aided by the virtual format, the three candidates spent their allotted time on each question outlining their position and refrained from sniping at each other.
Hanks weaved his campaign theme of trust, flexibility, and innovation along with his experience on the city commission through several of his responses.
“This is a new time,” Hanks said. “We can no longer do things the way we have. We need to be flexible.”
Cutsinger, a former member of the county’s planning commission, had a great depth of knowledge about the county but expressed leeriness at added layers of bureaucracy.
“We need to reassess those priorities,” Cutsinger said in response to a question about the most important issue facing the county, adding that road infrastructure was the most important issue in his mind, followed by affordable housing in District 5.
White’s 30-plue-year passion for the environment peppered many of her responses.
“We can’t continue to support development without the proper infrastructure,” White said, adding that a “pristine environment” is what brought people to Sarasota County.
A fourth candidate in the race, Joseph Mason of Englewood, indicated to Robinson that he was withdrawing his candidacy and didn’t participate.
Hine is serving his eighth year on the county commission and is term limited out of office making the District 5 seat open for this year’s election, which will be decided only by voters in the district under the new single-member districts approved by county voters in 2018.
District 5 encompasses all of Englewood, most of North Port and slivers of South Venice.
The hour and a half debate is viewable on YouTube.