USF professor runs for mayor of Bradenton
Published: Thursday, June 28, 2012
Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2012 09:06
The thought of running for Bradenton mayor didn’t really cross Richard O’Brien’s mind until the USF professor began receiving support from people in the community.
O’Brien, a government & international affairs professor, was being urged to run by prospective voters.
“About a year ago, people started asking me to run,” O’Brien said. “Coming to (say) ‘yes’ wasn’t an easy process.”
But O’Brien, who served as Chairman of the Manatee County Democratic Party for two years until he stepped down Tuesday to further embrace the non-partisanship of the election, didn’t make up his mind until he received encouraging words from one of the most important people in his life.
With his mother’s worsening dementia, O’Brien hadn’t heard her voice in weeks due to her deteriorating speech abilities. But a few months ago when she was in the hospital for an unrelated reason, O’Brien asked her what she thought about him running for mayor.
She spoke, and her straightforward answer stunned him.
“Just do it,” she said. “You’d be good at it.”
O’Brien said that’s when he decided to run.
The Nov. 6 mayoral election pits O’Brien against incumbent Wayne Poston, who has served as mayor since January 2000, and city councilwoman Marianne Barneby.
O’Brien said he will bring new energy to the table. He said with the number of job creators in the area, such as the Port of Manatee, IMG and Tourism, increasing jobs is a top goal.
“We need to go strong toward the job creators and bring more jobs to Manatee County,” he said.
O’Brien has also been secretary of the Democratic County Chairs Association and sits on the Florida Democratic Party State Central and Executive Committees.
He drives a red double-decker bus around Bradenton to campaign.
“It sets us apart,” he said. “The bus draws people in and helps us to get our message out and raise funds. It’s like an icebreaker.”
Though the position is officially a part-time position, with past mayors serving 20 to 25 hours per week, O’Brien said he will not be treating it as such.
“I’ll put in 40 to 50 hours a week,” he said. “I will treat this as a full-time job.”
But, O’Brien said, he will not give up teaching, despite the added workload, because teaching is one of his passions. At USF Sarasota-Manatee, O’Brien teaches courses such as International Human Rights, Conflict in the World and Ideologies of the World.
But O’Brien’s responsibilities go beyond teaching and politics. His wife, Ani O’Brien, gave birth to twins Analise and John a few months ago.
But Ani said said his new daughter and son are unlikely to slow him down.
“If anything the twins motivate him because he wants to be a good example,” she said.
O’Brien said that his wife’s support has been a necessity in his political pursuit.
“I help him any way I can,” Ani said. “I went door-to-door, helped put up signs, talked to people every day and I was also his treasurer.”
The Nov. 6 race is not O’Brien’s first flirtation with elected office. O’Brien has had political aspirations in the past too, having run for the Bradenton City Council in 2009. He lost by 140 votes in a close race.
“Win or lose, 2012 will be a good year because we had the twins,” he said.