Incoming Sarasota School Board member getting backlash for calling Trump supporters ‘Nazis’

Sarasota Herald Tribune | by Ryan McKinnon | October 19, 2020

Newly elected Sarasota County School Board member Tom Edwards has not yet been sworn into office and he already is hearing calls for his resignation.

The Republican Party of Sarasota County issued a press release over the weekend publicizing Facebook comments that Edwards made in 2017 in which he said that he views supporters of President Donald Trump as Nazis.

“So to be VERY clear, I view Trump, his regime, his supporters, and his voters as Nazis,” he wrote on Facebook on May 4, 2017.

That same day, he said, “This is a Wealthy Aryan cleansing of the sick and the poor. Wake up America!”

Edwards said on Monday that those posts were “regrettable” and “less than professional.” 

“Those remarks are disparaging and ultimately not helpful,” Edwards said Monday. “I wasn’t winning any hearts over, and nobody was paying attention, so I decided to find a way to be part of the solution.”

Edwards said he made a decision at some point after posting those comments to tone down his statements on social media. He said he decided to run for School Board as a way to make a difference, rather than just posting to Facebook.

When asked if he still views Trump supporters are Nazis, he said no. 

“Of course not, but I would say I am concerned when the president doesn’t openly disavow white supremacy and tells the Proud Boys to ‘stand by,’ that’s concerning,” Edwards said, referring to the president’s statement during the first presidential debate.

Edwards said he had no intention of resigning. 

He said people should be more concerned about things the president has said than things he posted to Facebook three years ago. Edwards said he didn’t think his comments would impede his ability to work collegially with other leaders in the school district who have different political opinions than he does.

“If somebody feels like it is their plan not to work with me, I feel bad for that,” he said.

The release also said Edwards’ usage of the word showed disrespect to the horrors of the Holocaust. 

“Edwards…makes a mockery of the Nazi extermination of six million Jews and millions of other ‘lower races,’ and does so on purpose using the phrase ‘Aryan cleansing,'” the release stated. “This was not some casual use of the word Nazi.”

Edwards is a political newcomer who was living in New York in 2017. He defeated incumbent board member Eric Robinson in the August election by four percentage points and roughly 4,000 votes, and he will be sworn in on Nov. 17.

Edwards will serve on the School Board alongside Bridget Ziegler, whose husband, Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler is an enthusiastic Trump supporter and vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, helping lead the president’s re-election campaign. 

On Monday, Ziegler said she has been disappointed in social media posts that many of her fellow board members have made, and she said Edwards’ post was the type of statement that divides the community.  

“Making comments such as that is alarming,” Ziegler said. ”…Personal attacks are what continues to erode the ability for our board, our community, our country to work together productively… We have only so much time and it would be wonderful if as adults and leaders in the community if we could lead by example.”

The Republican Party’s press release said Edwards’ “unrepentant, hate-filled rant” disqualified him for leadership in Sarasota and points out that Trump won Sarasota by a wide margin in 2016. 

Sarasota currently has roughly 144,000 registered Republicans, compared to 106,000 registered Democrats, and Trump won the county with 54% of the vote, compared to 42% for Hillary Clinton, according to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections website.  

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