More than a hundred Sarasota residents gathered in the Municipal Auditorium on Wednesday night, Feb. 15, for a Town Hall Event hosted by Sarasota Underground. The meeting was designed as a way to allow residents of the city to meet the eight candidates running for the two open County Commissioner seats.
According to the program passed out, the town hall event was also intended as a way to “build community and generate excitement about local initiatives, while talking about the growth trajectory of Sarasota as a whole.”
Before the town hall meeting began, candidates milled around the room giving firm handshakes and talking to their constituents. Booths representing local businesses lined the perimeter of the room.
But the true star of the show was us, “the young people.”
Raymmar Tirado, founder of Sarasota Underground, said he was inspired to put on the town hall meeting because of voter apathy. His goal was to see young people come out for this event and to encourage voters, especially young voters, to get involved in local politics.
“It’s pathetic,” he said, citing recent statistics of young people voting in city elections (less than 200 under the age of 30). “But then we complain.”
Fredd Atkins, former mayor of Sarasota who is running for County Commission, was a student activist in his younger years and said he always understood that young people needed a way to participate in local politics. He added that this meeting means to him that “young people have had an epiphany that they can be involved.”
Young people seemed to be on the minds of every candidate during the discussion forum. The focus was not just on young people, but on how to incentivize them to stay in Sarasota. Hagan Brody, one of the younger candidates, said there is an “extreme talent pool” at New College and that jobs right out of school would help college students stay in the area.
Carolina Shin (‘16) said there has been discussion centering around keeping millennials in the area but that the real issues have not been addressed yet. She cites a lack of available jobs and affordable housing as a main factor in why college students move away after graduation.
“We’re not that simple,” she said. “We won’t stay just cause there’s nightlife.”
Shin, like the other attendants in the room, came to the town hall meeting to get involved in local politics.
“I wanted to see who’s out there, what they’re talking about,” Shin said. “I wanted to be aware of things going around.”