The often outspoken businessman, who is unapologetic for his tough tone as a city watchdog, hopes to convince voters that it’s his turn to sit on the other side of the City Commission dais.
SARASOTA — Martin Hyde is a regular at Sarasota City Commission meetings, well-prepared and well-dressed for the public comment time. For more than four years, he’s used his allotted three minutes to deliver a carefully written mini-speech, sometimes more like a brief stand-up routine, sometimes with a revolving cache of props.
Through public records, he’s unearthed misdeeds at City Hall and embarrassed City Manager Tom Barwin on more than one occasion — including showing in 2017 that Barwin had been enjoying lots of free tickets to pricey shows at the city-owned Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Come Aug. 18, Hyde, the often outspoken businessman who is unapologetic for his tough tone and who carries a recent episode of incendiary race-related comments, is hoping that his efforts to change City Hall are enough to convince voters that it’s his turn to sit on the other side of the dais.
"It takes something for a guy with a business to run and a family to raise to" point out misdoings at City Hall, Hyde said of himself at a recent forum hosted by the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
"I have to do it because nobody else will," he said.
As a commissioner, he promises to revamp City Hall by firing top administrators, reigning in wasteful spending and retooling the police force.
Voters soundly rejected Hyde in 2017, when he campaigned for an at-large seat. That election was the most expensive in city history, with more than $77,000 coming from Hyde.
This time Hyde is again mostly self-funding his campaign (he’s raised $19,900 so far), looking to unseat District 2 incumbent Liz Alpert. There are four other candidates vying to replace Alpert in the district that largely covers downtown Sarasota.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Hyde’s family often vacationed in Sarasota and moved here permanently in 1999.
Since then he has served as president of Gulf Business Systems, a local office equipment company, and has for years been interested in City Hall, frequently challenging commissioners in public comments during their meetings.
In over four years, Hyde has clocked more than 250 speeches before the City Commission, talking about neighborhood development overreach, traffic and fiscal responsibility.
He’s targeted the city manager, lambasted city policy and generally assured commissioners that they were botching this or that.
In the last few years, Hyde has spoken up against a controversial decision to move the Sarasota Orchestra to Payne Park and Marie Selby Gardens’ master plan, which included an attempt to build a parking garage. He’s also gone to the Sarasota County Commission to speak against commissioners redistricting their boundaries ahead of the 2020 census.
Hyde will typically post his appearances on YouTube or as memes on Facebook and later note the number of hits (sometimes at City Commission meetings).
In one recent video, Hyde compares Jan Ahearn-Koch, now the city’s ceremonial mayor, to Josef Stalin, the brutal dictator of the Soviet Union, because of a muting policy she implemented at virtual City Commission meetings.
In another, Hyde compares a city email address for reporting mask violations under the city’s mandatory order to Nazi Germany.
On the campaign trail, Hyde is focused recently on revamping administration and has called for removing Barwin and Police Chief Bernadette DiPino, frequently criticizing the city for having three city managers and for paying the city manager more than Gov. Ron DeSantis makes.
Hyde has also focused on spending at Bobby Jones Golf Club, where the city has already subsidized the beleaguered city-owned course with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He has also promised to increase the Sarasota Police Department’s budget in a time when national protests against police brutality have called for a defunding of law enforcement.
Hyde’s behavior drew scrutiny during his first City Commission campaign in part because of questions concerning his temperament in four contentious encounters with the Sarasota Police Department, in which officers in police reports described Hyde as "irate" and "belligerent." Hyde was not charged, investigated or arrested, records showed.
In a recent interview with the Herald-Tribune, Hyde again dismissed the incidents in the documents as unfounded or one-sided accounts. "I’m 54 years old," said Hyde. "I’ve never been arrested, I’ve never been charged. These are regurgitated lies."
In 2017, a series of complaints lodged with the Florida Elections Commission alleged that Hyde, the Republican Party of Sarasota County and two political committees associated with Sarasota County School Board Member Eric Robinson violated election laws.
The complaints alleged they schemed to get around the prohibition on partisan campaigning by moving money from Hyde to a political committee and ultimately to the party, which paid for a mailer saying the party backed Hyde in the election.
Hyde was ordered to pay $1,500 and the Sarasota GOP to pay $2,000 to settle the complaints brought against them.
‘Cut the grass’
Hyde’s bid for District 2 was nearly upended last November when a cellphone video recorded by a 15-year-old tennis player confronting Hyde about a comment made to a Hispanic teenager was posted on Twitter.
Hyde initially denied the allegation, but later acknowledged on an WWSB-TV news show that what he said was "racially insensitive" and "inappropriate."
The WWSB interview came on the same day the Herald-Tribune broke the news that Hyde had been involved in another racially charged incident that year documented by Sarasota Police.
A pair of construction managers told Sarasota police in February 2019 that Hyde "was on their property yelling ‘You need to tell your f***ing Mexicans to turn off their Spanish music,’" according to a police report.
Hyde was pressured to get out of the race by Alianza for Progress and the board of the Sarasota County Democratic Party Hispanic Caucus.
"I stayed in because I didn’t want to run away," Hyde told the Herald-Tribune. "I stayed in because I didn’t want this footnote to be a black mark on my character."
Hyde vehemently denies any allegation that he is racist.
"I know in my heart that I am not racist," said Hyde. "I regretted it then and I still regret it. That was not me."