Candidate Jerry Wells is running for the Sarasota City Commission District 2 seat
SARASOTA — Wall Street veteran Jerry Wells has begun virtually every candidate forum the same way in his campaign for the City Commission District 2 seat.
It goes something like this:
“It’s no secret that our city needs change; we need leadership and you’re looking at that change,” said Wells. “I’m not a recycled politician and isn’t that refreshing?”
“I’m the only candidate who can lead the city throughout the challenging times ahead,” Wells said.
Wells is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility and hopes to curb wasteful spending, balance the city’s budget and strive for sustainability and renewable energy.
“I’m a stickler for numbers,” Wells said. “Not only do I walk the walk, but I talk the talk.”
Wells has more than 40 years of experience on Wall Street and a resume that includes a stint as an energy consultant helping to build solar farms in the northeast. He’s served on the city’s environmental and parks and recreation advisory boards.
In 2016, while Wells was on the parks and recreation advisory board, Sarasota city commissioners weighed a controversial decision to lease the Lido Beach Pavilion to a private company. Wells fought with the city’s administration to receive a copy of the lease agreement.
“To me, the devil was in the details,” Wells said. “There were a lot of ugly details, which would have changed the whole flavor of the public city beach.”
The city was resistant and only released partial details, he said.
This was his first interaction with City Manager Tom Barwin and it left a bad impression.
While Barwin couldn’t recall interactions with Wells on the Lido issue, the city manager told the Herald-Tribune that the lease agreement was likely included in the agenda packet or could have been accessed through a public records request through the auditor and clerk’s office.
In campaign forums, Wells has promised to remove Barwin if he’s elected and is an avid supporter of another strong mayor referendum.
“It’s time for Tom to be replaced and that’s not open for negotiation,” Wells told the Herald-Tribune.
Wells was born and raised in the Bronx by a police officer father and a mother who taught high school science and instilled a love of numbers.
At a young age, Wells was recruited to a training program at Goldman Sachs, then landed a position at the firm, where he worked on the exchange floor. Nowadays, computers handle complex calculations. Back then, Wells did it all quickly and by hand.
Wells later became the founding partner of Hunter Capital and had an office in 2 World Trade Center. On Sept. 11, 2001, he took the day off. That’s the day he lost Kevin Cleary, his business partner and best friend from childhood.
“I was devastated,” Wells said. “I lost a lot of friends and I never really went back on a full-time basis. It was too overwhelming.”
Wells went on to work on renewable and energy efficiency projects.
Wells moved to Sarasota full-time eight years ago — and joined on the city’s environmental and sustainability advisory board because he said he wanted to share his decades of experience in the renewable energy sector. He later served on the Sarasota’s parks and recreation advisory board.
Wells arrived in Sarasota around 2012, just as the city was digging itself out of the Great Recession.
Over the years, “I’ve seen a lot of growth and not all of it is good,” Wells said.
He’s watched buildings downtown be constructed up to the zero lot line, almost as if they were stretching into the road.
Wells, who began his bid for the City Commission in October, has raised $11,864, some of it bolstered by his own money.
Wells said he was driven to run by what he felt was an incompetence among elected officials and a lack of leadership.
“The commission is not working, and we can all agree on that,” Wells said. “It’s one city, we need to work together, be open and listen to both sides of the discussion.”
Still, Wells, along with candidate Martin Hyde, have been some of the most divisive candidates at recent forums.
Wells, speaking in his usual soft, calm voice, has criticized Joe Barbetta, a former county commissioner, for a litany of grievances. Among them include an alleged connection between Barbetta and developers and ethics violations that were later dismissed.
Wells has also lambasted incumbent Liz Alpert for her voting record on hot-button issues, including to lease the Lido Pavilion to a private entity.
“I’m level-headed,” said Wells. “I’m pointing out people’s records. It’s not personal or combative, it’s a matter of fact.”