Today in Sanford history, Brady Lessard was elected mayor, and Art Woodruff was elected to his first term as Sanford City Commissioner for District 1. It was March 6, 2001.
Sanford Mayor Larry Dale, first elected in 1995, chose not to run for re-election after serving one term as mayor. Lessard had served as District 1 City Commissioner and was seen as Dale’s heir-apparent for the seat. In fact, Lessard’s campaign slogan was a version of “Let’s finish what we started.”
Three other candidates also ran for mayor: Kerry Lyons, a former District 3 City Commissioner during from 1995 to 1999; Dean Ray, owner of Ray’s Appliance, and a serial candidate for local office; and Bates Reed, a hotel marketing executive, and Sanford’s first openly gay candidate.
Lyons was a legitimate candidate to challenge Lessard, given his previous experience on the commission. Ray and Reed, not so much. Both were generally liked, but not seriously considered for office. Ray often gave conflicting responses, and Reed’s vision for the city was big on ideas, light on details. For example, Reed touted a city without division, but had no plan on how to do so, other than requiring developers to build $500,000 homes next to $100,000 homes.
Of the four candidates, Reed was the most entertaining. During a Sanford Herald candidate forum at the newly renovated Helen Stairs Theater (today known as the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center), Reed took an unusual approach for his closing statement. While the other 3 candidates used the time to emphasis their key issues, Reed ran off stage to retrieve a boom box. He then sat on the edge of the stage, began playing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” and laid out his vision for the city – in rhyme. While also singing along with Whitney. To this day, I can still see Bates dangling his legs off the side of the stage in time with the music.
In 2001, city elections were held in March, and it was a light turnout with just 2,312 people citywide voting for mayor. Lessard won in a landslide and avoided a runoff with 54% of the vote. Lyons finished second with 35%, while Ray and Reed received just 237 votes combined for the remaining 11%.
Lessard’s one term as mayor was mostly unspectacular. The 2 most notable accomplishments during the Lessard administration were the construction of Phase 1 of the Sanford RiverWalk and the hiring of possibly the worst city manager in Sanford’s history.
That RiverWalk was first envisioned by former Mayor Bettye Smith in the 1980s, and Dale used his political connections to secure state funding during his administration. Lessard just happened to be mayor when the project was completed.
As for the city manager hire, Lessard highjacked the process and led the charge to hire Al Grieshaber, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel.
Grieshaber had served as the city attorney of Albany, Ga. but had no city management experience. A citizen committee that included former mayor Bettye Smith recommended 8 finalists from a field of 89 candidates. Grieshaber didn’t make the cut, but Lessard wanted a military man as city manager. Somehow he convinced the city commission to add Grieshaber’s name to the list, and ultimately hired him.
Grieshaber turned out to be a paranoid nut job and a horrible manager. He was fired/asked to resign about 2 years after he was hired.
As for the 2001 District 1 City Commission race Art Woodruff trounced Linda Kuhn to win by a 22-point margin to win his first term in office. The race was a pretty traditional local election with no Whitney Houston impersonations by either candidate. Both Woodruff and Kuhn have deep roots in the community, though Woodruff’s family tree includes some of Sanford’s founding fathers. In the end, that may have made the difference, as Woodruff gained broad support across the district.
Woodruff would go on to serve 2 terms, take a term off, and then was re-elected twice, once in 2014 and again in 2018. During his service, Woodruff has built a reputation as a detailed-oriented commissioner with a focus on residents’ concerns.