Mayor Vs. Mayor

Longtime pals and colleagues, incumbent John Sorey and former Mayor Bill Barnett are squaring off to see who will run Naples next

BY January 26, 2016


This is a story about a farmer and a poker player, a Vietnam veteran and a former car dealer, an entrepreneur and a long-distance runner.

It is the story of current Naples Mayor John Sorey III and former mayor and now City Councilman Bill Barnett, who are running against one other in what has shaped up as the most competitive mayoral election in the city’s history.

They are a pair of septuagenarians, alike in so many ways, yet as different as dusk and dawn.

Politics and rivalry aside, it is a story of friendship, community service and how each continues to champion Naples as one of the great places to live, work and play.


When a man says, “Work is my hobby,” there’s a good chance 72-year-old John Sorey has spoken. If he’s not sitting in a council meeting or performing some sort of mayoral function (cutting a ribbon or meeting with City Manager Bill Moss, e.g.), he’s dealing with his duties as executive director of The Naples Players, hatching new entrepreneurial ideas or working in his yard "digging in the dirt."

One of the last things he expected, Sorey says, was for Bill Barnett to give up his city council seat and try to reclaim his old office.

“Bill is a good friend, a mentor,” says Sorey, who was on the city council when Barnett was mayor prior to 2012. “I think the world of him. I just personally think that I’m the best mayor for the situation. I don’t get into races to come in second.”

Sorey insists he is not a politician. “I am an elected official. Every day I see what I can do to make Naples a better place. I never do anything half in. I work 60 to70 hours every week. Whatever it takes. I am always available 24 hours a day. I attended 200 events last year as mayor.”

He says friends have urged him numerous times to seek higher office, such as the state legislature. He has always turned them away and insists the office of Mayor of Naples is as good as it gets.

The mayor of Naples has no executive authority, other than running city council meetings, where he is one of seven voting members. That is vested in the City Manager, who is hired by the city council.

But Sorey quickly points out he’s not the passive type. “I am an activist mayor given who I am,” he says. “I believe in getting things done. I’ve been a lot more involved in the city than any other mayor has been.” He said he either talks to or meets with City Manager Bill Moss every day.

He lists among his major accomplishments during his first term as mayor re-nourishing the city’s beaches; establishing the Baker Park/Gordon River Greenway and Blue Zones; rebuilding the Naples Pier; and completing pension reform for city employees.

Among the goals for the next four years are “steadily strengthening the Naples brand,” rebuilding the city dock, completing Baker Park as “the People’s Park” and “(maintaining) fiscal prudence toward improving financial sustainability.”

Sorey, who first came to Naples in 1979 and moved here permanently in 1998, is a Vietnam veteran—he was an infantry lieutenant. He says much of what he learned in the Army has served him well as a business executive and a mayor overseeing a $125 million city budget.

“The most important thing that I learned in Vietnam,” he says, “was that making no decision was the worst decision.”

At heart, he’s a farmer, albeit an urban one. Today, he grows all kinds of fruit in his yard on the west side of the city. As an example, he babies 11 different species of bananas.

When he was in high school in rural Tennessee, tomatoes were the ticket for him.

“I sent myself through college as a truck farmer,” Sorey says, referring to his undergraduate days at the University of Tennessee.

Sorey’s critics say he is too much of a micromanager and, now that he’s executive director of The Naples Players, he’s spread himself too thin. Nonsense, Sorey says. “I spend the hours needed for each.” His agreement with council is that he’ll recuse himself from any vote that deals with The Naples Players in any way.


If Sorey is a type a personality, then Bill Barnett is the direct opposite. He’s laid-back like a poker player at a high stakes table. He’s the city’s Alfred E. Neuman, the fictitious Mad Magazine character who said, “What, me worry?”

He loves to spend time out in the community. “I have been known to people as ‘their mayor,’” he says. “I love being out in the public meeting people. I am a real people person.”

Barnett’s outgoing personality and glibness is likely a carryover from his days in the car business, first as a salesman and later as a dealer. He came to Naples in 1973. He owned the Toyota-BMW dealership before selling it to the Germain family. Researchers say the average male speaks 7,000 words a day. Not Bill Barnett’s average. He can talk a mile a minute, and that’s one of the reasons he’s in high demand as a celebrity auctioneer. He’s a motor mouth, but not one of those who makes you want to say, “Get out of my face.”

Asked to list his top achievements as mayor, Barnett was reluctant to do so, but finally did.

“This was a tough task because … there is no ‘I’ in ‘Naples,’” Barnett says. “I have never been an ‘I did this and I did that’ kind of person, or as a mayor.”

In his 12 years as mayor, he was involved in a great many endeavors—from officiating the marriage of movie actor Anthony Quinn to “my involvement with the resurgence of Fifth Avenue South and my help in bringing it back.” Today, Fifth Avenue in Naples is world-famous for its shops, restaurants and entertainment.

If Barnett were to win, it would be his third different stint heading up the city, unprecedented in the 90-plus-year history of Naples. His 23-year tenure as either mayor or city councilman is unparalleled. Sorey is next with 11 years.

Term limits pushed Barnett out of the mayor’s seat in 2012, and he hinted that his current term as a councilman could be his last. But then, he said, friends and colleagues began encouraging him to take on Sorey.

“I never stopped wanting to be mayor, even when I was termed out,” he said. “I am mentally and physically in good shape. Like it says on the wristband I wear, ‘Age doesn’t matter.’ My wife and I talked ad nauseum about it. I have been the mayor. I know how to be the mayor. I feel I have earned the right to run for mayor again. I love the city of Naples and I am up for this challenge.”

Like Sorey, Barnett doesn’t consider himself a politician. “I’ve never considered myself a true politician,” he says. “There is no politics in my blood. I’ve never considered anything outside the city of Naples. I am just a local guy.”

He acknowledges that his and Sorey’s leadership styles differ significantly. “John is driven,” Barnett says. “My leadership is by listening. Consensus building is a big part of who I am.”

With his lean build, Barnett is a runner. He pounds the pavement, sometimes 5 or 6 miles in a jaunt. He’s been involved in the annual Naples half-marathon for years and still takes part in the 13-mile run.

He’s also a poker player, and apparently he’s pretty good. In 2005, when it was still legal to play poker online, he won a tournament that earned him a $10,000 entry into the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. “I had never played a live hand of poker before that. It was pure luck,” he saya. He didn’t win a dime, but said it was a thrill of a lifetime.


Both mayoral contenders are Republicans and have been active in Collier County GOP circles for years. The mayor’s race, though, is nonpartisan, so party affiliation doesn’t play in this race. The turnout should be strong, and more votes could be cast for mayor than in any previous election.

Why? The Florida primary for the Republican presidential nomination will be contested that day as well. It is expected to attract record numbers to the polls.

As for the mayor’s race, it’s win or go home. Neither Sorey nor Barnett will be on the city council next term, something that has not happened for more than two decades.

The man in the catbird seat watching these two mayoral heavyweights woo the city’s voters is Gary Price, a former vice mayor, longtime councilman and civic leaders and himself a candidate for office, running for state senate.

Price has publicly tossed his support Barnett’s way, but readily admits the mayor’s chair will be in good stead with either at the helm the next four years. He said he doesn’t feel there will be one defining issue making a difference between the two. “I don’t know what that difference would be,” Price says.

 Predicting a winner, Price says, would be like predicting heads or tails.  “I’d say it’s probably a coin toss. Both are well-known and well-liked,” he says. “It’s likely whose style fits the voters best and who is best taking us where we want to go.”

The Gladiators

Bill Barnett

  • Age: 74
  • Hometown: White Plains, New York
  • College: One year of junior college
  • Family: wife Chris, four children, eight grandchildren
  • Business background: automobile sales and dealership owner
  • Came to Naples: 1973
  • Political affiliation: Republican
  • Public office: 23 years

What Barnett says are his biggest accomplishments during his 12 years as mayor:

  • Resurgence of Fifth Avenue South
  • Rebuilding the Cambier Park playground
  • Working with Cleveland Clinic to equip city police cars with defibrillators
  • Organizing and leading the establishment of the City of Naples Dog Park
  • Implementing the first lightning warning systems for parks and on Naples Bay
  • Helping organize Naplescape, which was the beginning of medians being landscaped
  • Being an early proponent of aquifer storage recovery wells


John Sorey III

  • Age: 72
  • Hometown: rural Tennessee
  • College: Tennessee Tech, University of Tennessee
  • Family: wife Delores, two children, two grandchildren
  • Business background: entrepreneur, company owner and CEO
  • Came to Naples: 1988
  • Political affiliation: Republican
  • Public office: 11 years


What Sorey says are his biggest accomplishments during his four-year term as mayor:

  • Protected and enhanced the Naples brand
  • Completed pension reform
  • Achieved financial sustainability
  • River Park Pool
  • Naples beaches re-nourishment
  • Naples Pier rebuilding
  • Baker Park and Gordon River Greenway




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