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Guest Commentary

For Manatee County Democrats and Independents Who Want to Make a Difference this County Election Cycle

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On those rare occasions when my neighborhood friend and I talk about politics, our discussions typically end with us agreeing to disagree. I say “typically” because there are exceptions. For example, this friend, a Democrat, thinks the Republican Party (its Manatee County branch) screwed up royally in 2020 by putting Kevin Van Ostenbridge (“KVO”) on the Manatee County Commission District 3 seat, and I adamantly agree.

Our latest Van Ostenbridge discussion was in mid-June when my friend called me over to see his new yard sign. The sign says, “HELL NO! KVO” along the top and “Register and VOTE” along the bottom. In the middle, there is a headshot of KVO.

I laughed with my friend about the sign, it being his first political yard sign I ever liked. Then I asked him if he was going to “walk the walk” to the Election Office and change his voter registration to Republican so he could vote for Van Ostenbridge’s opponent in the upcoming Republican primary election. To my surprise, he answered yes.

More precisely, he told me he had already changed his voter registration to Republican and was telling other Democrats and Independents to do the same and to vote for George Kruse, Van Ostenbridge’s opponent in the August 20 Republican primary. [NOTE: As detailed below, voters can change party affiliations online; the pertinent deadline for doing so is July 22.]

What struck me about our Van Ostenbridge conversation that day was my politically savvy Democrat friend was telling me what some Republican friends were also telling me. That is, unless George Kruse gets a sizable number of crossover votes from Democrats and Independents, KVO is the odds-on favorite to win the August 20 Republican primary election. Why? Because money typically (and sadly) trumps talent and integrity – he who spends the most money on his political campaign typically wins the election.

Thanks to his land-developer cronies and other deep-pocket benefactors in the real estate industry, Van Ostenbridge has amassed a huge campaign fund. Per Election Office records, he has received, as of June 25, cash campaign contributions of $234,300. This is a staggering sum for County-level elections and almost five times what George Kruse has received. These benefactors, KVO’s true constituency, very obviously want to keep their Commissioner for another four years.

However, earlier this year, when Van Ostenbridge was running (claimed to be running) to keep his Commission District 3 seat, an oddsmaker living in District 3 would have put his winning chances at about zero – despite his huge financial resources.

Many Republicans living in District 3 – Cortez, the three Anna Maria Island cities, the Palma Sola area, and the northwest part of Bradenton – have had their fill of Van Ostenbridge. He misled us back in 2020 as to what his values and beliefs are – he is anything but the principled, resident-minded conservative he claimed (and still claims) to be. His various misfeasances and malfeasances have harmed District 3 communities and residents even more than others. Tal Siddique, KVO’s Commission District 3 Republican opponent, would have whipped him soundly in the August 20 District 3 primary election.

Van Ostenbridge knew this, too, and on May 31 he announced he had terminated his District 3 campaign and is now running for the Commission District 7 seat. He and April Culbreath, a KVO friend and ally (proxy), swapped election campaigns. Culbreath, who carries some very interesting baggage herself, is now running against Republican Tal Siddique for the District 3 seat, and KVO is running for the District 7 seat.

Commission District 7 has approximately five times more residents than District 3—District 7 covers all of Manatee County—so Van Ostenbridge figures the ill will he has generated in District 3 will be diluted in District 7’s much larger voter base, enough for him to win the District 7 seat.

Van Ostenbridge and his backers also want George Kruse off the Commission. Kruse has questioned the utility and cost of some of KVO’s pet projects, including the Manatee Public Beach parking garage, the boondoggle that best explains why KVO is running away from District 3 voters.

The Manatee Public Beach parking garage (MPB parking garage) is the $40-to-45-million, multi-level, pay-to-park parking garage Van Ostenbridge is clamoring to erect on the sands of beautiful Manatee Public Beach in the City of Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island.

He justifies the MPB parking garage on the unsupported notion that Manatee Public Beach is underused due to a shortage of convenient public parking spaces, which he claims prevents off-island County residents and visitors from using the beach on weekends and other high-use days.

Van Ostenbridge knows this unsupported notion is false. Knowledgeable officials and his own eyes tell him the predominant impediment to off-islanders using Manatee Public Beach on high-use beach days is the terrible, bumper-to-bumper, snail-pace-or-worse traffic they face just getting over to Anna Maria Island. Moreover, this geographically small neighborhood beach is not underused. On high-use days, with “just” the 425 onsite parking spaces it currently has, the beach typically is packed shoulder-to-shoulder and umbrella-to-umbrella with beachgoers.

If built, the MPB parking garage will make a very bad traffic situation materially worse, congestion-wise and public-safety-wise; it will sully the natural pristine beauty of this Gulf Coast beach; it will put the beach’s iconic, uber-popular, beachfront establishments out of business; it will eliminate all 425 existing fee-free onsite parking spaces; and, during its projected two-year-plus construction phase, there will be no onsite parking at all, or restrooms, or concessions.

It is no wonder so many Commission District 3 residents believe some of Van Ostenbridge’s deep-pocket benefactors must really want the MPB parking garage. Otherwise, it makes absolutely no sense. Again, we do not believe KVO is a principled public servant. Nor do the conservatives among us believe he is a conservative – crony capitalism is antithetical to conservatism.

As noted earlier, Democrats and Independents wishing to vote in the August 20 County Commission Republican primary election must change their voter registration to Republican no later than July 22. This change can be made easily online and then easily undone after the primary election.

The Election Office web address is: https://www.votemanatee.com/. Its helpline number is 941-741-3823.

Also, for registered voters wishing to vote by mail in the August 20 primary, the deadline for enrolling in the Election Office’s VBM directory is this August 8. Enrollment can be done online or by telephone. (To remain active in the VBM directory, a voter must reenroll every two years.)

I conclude my thoughts with these: All votes are important, especially in Manatee County’s County-level Republican primary elections, where voter turnout is typically low and the winners, given our Republican-heavy voter demographics, typically go on to win their general election as well. Therefore, Democrats and Independents, if you want the New Year to arrive with neither Kevin Van Ostenbridge nor April Culbreath seated on our County Commission, I respectfully suggest you consider changing your voter registrations to Republican so you can vote for their opponents in the August 20 County Commission Republican primary elections.

Jerry Newbrough, Holmes Beach resident

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  • sandy

    I changed my party affiliation when Satcher got the SOE nod from DeSantis. My goal at that time was to elect Scott Farrington. Now that KVO switched districts I most certainly vote for Kruse in the primary. I moved here 30 years ago as a Democrat (which I registered as because of my parents in 1975). I live in District 4 and won't be changing back. I want to also vote out Rahn and Beardon in 2026.

    Tuesday, July 9 Report this

  • kmskepton

    Done. It was so simple. There is nothing more American than using the system, as flawed as it may be, to be able to have my voice heard. Farrington for SOE and Kruse for District 7 (the entire county), all the way!

    Wednesday, July 10 Report this

  • David Daniels

    Very well said. We have got to take our County away from the developers that are becoming ultra-rich while our quality of life is becoming ultra-awful. Concerned and informed citizens are having an Anti-Developer rally on Thursday July 18 at 5pm, meeting at the County Admin Bldg, 1112 Manatee Ave W. We'll be holding signs in a public push-back against the Developer-paid for mailers and the Developer-owned candidates that are sending them. When you receive these mailers, ask yourself who is paying for them and say Hell No KVO, Hell No Culreath, Hell no Turner, and Hell No Metallo.

    Wednesday, July 10 Report this