At 31 years old, City Commissioner Eric Arroyo became the youngest and first Hispanic mayor in Sarasota history after the commission unanimously selected him for the position. Although the mayoralty of Sarasota is a largely ceremonial role, he has served as spokesperson for the city and led committee meetings. Now 33 years old, he remains immersed in local politics as Sarasota City Commissioner for District 3, representing the general area east of downtown, including large stretches of Fruitville Road and Ringling Street. He says he quickly scrapes off a list of 132 goals he aims to achieve to improve the city of Sarasota before he steps down.
Away from the platform, Arroyo works as a lawyer, and in April, he left his previous firm to start his own. Arroyo | McArdleShe specializes in business law and estate planning. Born in the Dominican Republic, where he says hot water and air conditioning are considered far-fetched luxuries, he was the first in his family to graduate high school when he graduated from Sarasota Riverview High School, where he also met his future. wife. He then earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and attended Florida A&M University to study law. He also played chess, including an international chess match against Sarasota sister city Tel Mond, Israel.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Where are you originally from and when did you move to Sarasota?
“I was born to a single mother in Santiago, Dominican Republic, who dropped out of high school to have me. She came to Sarasota to become a citizen first, while I stayed with my grandparents, who lived in San Jose de las Matas.” When I got her citizenship, I joined her when I was 16 years old. The last time I was there was 17 years ago. I still have family there, like my dad, but we don’t have a strong relationship. My 3 year old daughter and her 9 month old son are learning spanish from my mom and me – it helps us a lot.
What was it like when you first moved here?
“It was hard. It was a culture clash and everything so different. My mum promoted it as a place to be by talking about luxurious lifestyles – everyone has a car and air conditioning, she says – all the little things you might take for granted.” Its here that we did not originate. In the school, there were more groups than in the DR. There, you are not defined. People were poor. Here, there were jocks, nerds…and I had to get used to it.
“But I grew up loving America and that was amazing. And I still think America is the greatest place to rise up. I couldn’t have been a lawyer or done any of the things I did here in the DRC.”
Did you experience any discrimination?
“There were comments here and there, but I don’t attribute it to racism. People were just ignorant. They didn’t know. The other Latino kids here weren’t from DRC, most of them were from Puerto Rico or anywhere. So it was just me.”
Does being Hispanic hinder opportunities here? Or gave you an advantage?
“It’s all just mentality. I know people who came from DRC and they were poor, and yeah, it’s hard, but sometimes they use it as an excuse not to do better. I started this race behind the rest but I caught up. I’m just running twice as fast. I don’t feel like “Anything life throws at me can upset me. My heritage has been an advantage. There aren’t many lawyers who are bilingual here. It also helps me in my role as a lawyer. Commissioned to communicate with the larger community.”
What were you doing before you became a lawyer?
“I graduated law school in 2014 but was still working at Walgreens. I started practicing in 2016. I was working in pharmacy tech and working my way up to management.”
What prompted you to become a trust attorney?
“I said I would help people and my first 250 will be free. A few people encouraged me to, and that’s what got me started. I deal with a lot of business, estate planning, and trust law. I hated personal litigation, injuries, and ambulance chases even though that “It used to require more money. I give people peace of mind. It’s a happier kind of law. Clients tell me about their families and I get to know different generations. You can help people save on taxes too which is great because I’m learning from it too.”
What made you join the city committee?
“I just noticed that a lot of things weren’t being addressed in the community and some of the people running for office were coming from out of state. And that’s fine for them, but they didn’t really represent a neighborhood or try to improve the city and would focus the money and effort on downtown only.” “Meanwhile, there are dirt roads near Benifa and Fruitville. East 301, there’s no art component. It’s all downtown. I represent District 3, so I wanted to pave more roads, get more art initiatives and start more projects.”
What does it feel like to be a city commissioner?
“It’s the most frustrating and rewarding thing in my life. I love it, but sometimes, people will hate you for who you are. When politics gets involved, it can get tough, even though the decision-making process is nonpartisan. There’s no political way to address concerns.” traffic, for example.
What did you learn from the role?
“A lot. It’s like a giant ship. No delegate can make something happen quickly, so there’s no tyrant leading the way, so it takes time with processes and layers, and you learn to maneuver through that. I learned a lot about trees and noise law and all the decibels “You’re always learning and meeting some pretty impressive people in this city. We have great celebrities and CEOs, so you have to be on top of your game because “you pay attention, you know their stuff, and you stay involved.”
What is on the minds of the townspeople?
Housing the workforce so that people can live in the city and work in the city a price they can afford. In this way we will not have a shortage of labor, and we will have less traffic as well. Think of the 9,000 employees at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and that’s a lot of traffic. Our schools will not see an exodus of staff, and Ringling College graduates can stay in town. We need permanent, affordable housing units and rapid rehousing services.”
What are you proud of as a commissioner?
“On my first day on the committee in November 2020, I met with the city manager. I had a list of 132 goals and we accomplished over 90 goals. The list included a new chief of police, a free cart downtown that goes to Lido Key, outdoor dining as a right Food trucks, back parking, electric bikes and reduced estate taxes. We had a record investment in public safety with more officers. One of my favorite (achievements) is The right to build additional housing units. We have created a Click to Fix app that allows you to take a picture of the hole and send it to create a work order. We made a Kamel Street on Ringling Boulevard and scrapped the sustainability section. They had no direction. It was just a matter of spending money and employees were put in other positions and they didn’t lose their jobs. We agreed to Bath and bat project, Selby Gardensthe Bay Park projectand established a Conservation Easement on Bobby Jones. We lit up the bridge for Hispanic Heritage Month. I want a ban on the kill shelter and a renegotiation of Marina Jack’s lease. I want to beautify the back alleys of downtown. I want to launch a public awareness campaign about homelessness and create an app to allow people to donate and put an end to begging. I think Sarasota is stronger than ever.”
How do you feel about all the new people moving in here?
“We want to be welcome, but we also want to make sure we grow responsibly. I also want people who move here to not close the door behind them. Residents didn’t want to see sign The apartments go up, but then the people who live there were against other new developments. This is just one example, but we’ve seen this situation a lot in meetings.”
What would you say to other Hispanic residents who are struggling?
Get out of your comfort zone and you will learn a lot. I have done many unpaid courses. From Incredible Adventures on Siesta Key to one with Burgess Harrell Mancuso Olson & Colton that I did in 2007.
“Get involved. We always have volunteer opportunities and one person can make a difference. Bring something to the committee that we’d never considered, because we’re listening. I encourage (other Hispanics) to run for office. You’ll meet amazing people, get exposure to how the systems work and learn Much of what you will use for the rest of your life.”