Bill Sanders is a City Councilman in Bradenton, Florida. Sanders made headlines in 2018 when he won the city council seat, beating out long-time incumbent Bemis Smith. Now, Sanders is making headlines again — this time, for allegedly getting drunk and “starting problems” at a fish festival.
On Friday, police said that they had to kick Sanders out of the Desoto Seafood Festival after he got into a fight with a festival volunteer named Terry Wilson. Police say that Sanders was visibly drunk, sweating heavily, and reeking of alcohol, even though everyone else at the festival seemed to be sober. They did not arrest Sanders, but asked him to leave the festival. Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Fight Allegedly Started After Sanders Started Letting Random People Into a VIP Area of the Festival
Terry Wilson, a volunteer at the Desoto Fish Festival, said he first went over to Sanders because he saw him holding open a gate to the festival’s VIP area and letting in people who didn’t have the right pass. Wilson said he just wanted to tell Sanders to leave the gate closed. But when he started talking to Sanders, he says, the city councilman grabbed him and poked him in the chest, saying, “do you know who I am?”
Wilson says that Sanders was also “cussing me up and down.” Police later approached Sanders and asked him to leave. The officers were worried about how Sanders was going to get home, since, they said, he was visibly drunk. But when they asked him about his plans, officers said that Sanders quickly got agitated and screamed, “I’m not going to jail!” He then disappeared into the crowd, and police were unable to find him again that day.
Sanders disputes this story. He says that he was enjoying himself at the festival, relaxing and listening to the music, when Wilson came over to confront him. He told the Bradenton Herald, “They were coming in and I was just standing there listening to the music,” Sanders said. “And this guy runs up, pointing his finger at me and actually hit me in the cheek with his finger because he got nose to nose with me. He said he was going to kick me out and kick my (butt). I said, ‘Oh no you aren’t,’ and grabbed him by the shirt, pushed him back and told him don’t ever threaten me again.”
2. Sanders Says Wilson Was ‘Stalking’ Him All Night, Looking for an Excuse to Start a Fight
Sanders and Wilson have history together. When Sanders was running for City Council, he filed a criminal complaint against Terry Wilson, claiming that Wilson had threatened his sister on Facebook. Sanders was never able to prove that charge. Both Sanders and Wilson say that when they first ran into each other at the festival, they didn’t recognize each other. But Sanders says that Wilson knew who he was and was spoiling for a fight.
“I guess he just hadn’t gotten over the election,” Sanders told the Bradenton Herald. “He made up some excuse to threaten me, I guess. When the police asked if I wanted to press charges, I said sure. They told me that he didn’t, and I asked why would he? The cop said well you grabbed him and I said, ‘Yeah, I have the right to defend myself. ‘He said if either one of us wanted to press charges, we’d both go to jail, so I let it go.”
3. Sanders Grew Up on a Farm in Southern Indiana & Says He’s No Stranger to Hard Work & Hard Times
Sanders was born and raised on a farm in southern Indiana. He told the Bradenton Herald that he’s used to hard work, and hard times. He says that his hard work “made me a better person” and added:
“I always say I can drink beer with the boys or sip wine with the elite. That’s my roots. I was a small town city administrator so that gave me a knowledge of city services. I went to college on a track scholarship and was a great athlete before I got into a car accident that ended my career. All of the hard times in my life made me a better person.”
4. Sanders’ First Wife Died in a Boating Accident & His First Son Is Deceased
Sanders’s first wife, Dona, died after a drunken boater struck a boat they were riding. Afterward, Sanders successfully pushed Indiana lawmakers to make drunken boating illegal. The resulting legislation is known as “Dona’s Law.” “I’m proud of that fact,” Sanders said. “I’m good at influencing people.”
Sanders’ oldest son, Brandon, is deceased. Sanders has two other children, Jill and Todd. He is remarried to Ellen Sanders.
5. Sanders Moved to Florida After Retiring & Said He Wanted to Make Bradenton a Better Place for Working People
Sanders, an Indiana native, first started visiting Bradenton in 2011. He’d come to the area for extended visits with his sister, who’d moved to Bradenton. Over time, Sanders decided to move to Bradenton himself. He said he loved the quality of life he found in Bradenton. But he also said that he wanted to use his retirement years to make the city a better place for ordinary working people. Sanders said he wanted to create more affordable housing, curb illegal drug sales, and work on the homeless epidemic.
“We’ve got to do more than just focus on the riverfront and projects that are important to politically-connected developers,” Sanders told the Bradenton Times. “We’ve got to work with businesses that can come to the city and create living wage jobs, and then have adequate workforce housing in place. I don’t think we’re doing enough to solve those challenges.”