Race Analysis: BOCC District 2 Democratic Primary

Dennis "Mitch" Maley
Manatee County’s BOCC District 2 Democratic primary will feature a rematch of the 2018 race, in which current incumbent Reggie Bellamy unseated then-incumbent Charles Smith for the nomination. The winner will face Republican Amanda Ballard in November.

Bellamy and Smith are night and day in terms of their respective approaches to the politics of public policy. While Smith has never been one to shy away from conflict and heated debate, Bellamy has a much more nuanced approach and favors civility and consensus-building.

Despite those stylistic differences, both Smith and Bellamy have a record of doggedly pushing for much-needed changes in the district, which is challenged by a disproportionate amount of blight and poverty with many neighborhoods lacking basic amenities such as sidewalks and streetlights where children walk to and from school.

Smith was the primary proponent for the district’s new aquatics facility and has earned credit for getting it budgeted during his term. At the same time, Bellamy deserves credit for the work he did to ensure that the project got across the goal line during his.

Bellamy is, without question, the more polished public official of the two and is better at articulating his vision while building coalitions with other board members, while Smith more often struggled in terms of building alliances. Bellamy's patience and humility regarding issues that he is unfamiliar with, along with his eagerness to learn, are often a refreshing change from the norms of the board. 

However, Bellamy’s success in bringing his platform to fruition has been limited in his first term. At times, it is almost painful to watch the commissioner prioritize civility on what can be an extremely contentious board, and District 2 voters who are dissatisfied with the results they’ve seen may well favor a battle-tested fighter like Smith after watching Bellamy attempt to get things done over the last term.

It will be District 2 Democrats who decide this race, and they will likely do it based on issues that are important to that community. However, it is worth noting that Bellamy has proven to be increasingly aligned with the developers and east county landowners who are flooding his campaign with cash whenever a non-district 2 development issue comes before the board. For voters who feel that developer influence and a lack of sustainably planned growth with adequate infrastructure are primary issues to consider, this is undoubtedly Bellamy’s Achilles' heel. 

Another important factor in this race, however, is redistricting. While district 2 has been reliably Democratic by design since its creation in 1990, itself the result of potential litigation from the NAACP, the new map approved following the 2020 census is much more favorable for Republicans. Whoever wins the primary will face off with Amanda Ballard in the general election and will not be able to count on a walkover as in past cycles. 

To this point, Bellamy’s financial support ($74,180 as of the last reporting deadline to Smith’s just over $10,000) may present him as more electable to Democratic primary voters, who are well aware that the District 2 seat is the only one in play for their party and do not wish to see Republicans gain all seven seats on the board.