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Campaign team drops candidate Matthew Wooddall days before Sarasota elections

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Just four days ahead of city elections in Sarasota, Democratic City Commission District 3 candidate Matthew Wooddall has been dropped by Keen Campaigning, the consulting firm directing his campaign amid revelations that Wooddall misled Keen and others about his employment history.

“I’ve worked on more than 100 races up and down the ballot all over Florida and I’ve never come across this situation before,” Andrew Torkelson, a political consultant with Keen, told Florida Politics. 

The bizarre turn of events has blown a competitive three-way race — between Wooddall, Republican Stan Zimmerman and Democrat Shelli Freeland Eddie –– wide open.

In discussions with the firm — and in campaign finance and qualifying filings — Wooddall indicated that his primary source of income came from work in “Freelance Property Management,” as well as dividends from a trust fund in the name of John Cotton. But that contradicts the version of events found in a profile published Thursday, in which he told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he quit that line of work back in 2012.

Wooddall reportedly told Torkelson, who informed Wooddall the firm was cutting ties with him Thursday evening, that he thought questions about sources of personal income inquired as to his “occupation,” rather than his sources of income per se. “Everybody has their own opinion on what you can consider an occupation if you haven’t done that for three years, I suppose,” said Torkelson.

No one seems to know for sure exactly how Wooddall does occupy himself, but it appears likely that the independently wealthy Wooddall lives off of the trust fund. His campaign has been largely self-financed. Per Torkelson, Wooddall now says he is a full-time candidate.

According to Sarasota Democratic Party Treasurer Rita Ferrandino, the party is not (yet) asking for Wooddall to withdraw, despite irregularities that could lead to impeachment or resignation should he win the March 10 election.

“Campaign teams and candidates have conflicts all the time,” said former county chair Ferrandino, downplaying the news. “I’m not in a position to judge. [Keen] put out an allegation and the candidate should have some say as well.”

Wooddall did not return messages or calls requesting comment as of Friday afternoon.

The recent developments could prove to be a boon to Freeland Eddie, a former prosecutor who so far has been splitting Democratic support with Wooddall in her bid to take out Zimmerman, the incumbent. A history professor at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, Zimmerman was appointed to the office last fall after former Commissioner Shannon Snyder resigned to run for the County Commission.

A substantial number of ballots have already been cast — around 800 in a race won by a margin of 704 to 465 back in 2011.

“So many votes have been cast already, who knows what this might change?” said Torkelson.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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