SAFETY HARBOR — City Commission candidate Glen Caristinos owes nearly $21,000 in back taxes to the state of Maine, where he lived before moving here three years ago.
Caristinos, 42, said Thursday he was unaware of the debt, but he later said it might be connected to some property he sold.
But that's not the only thing that might raise the voters' eyebrows about Caristinos, who is running against Nancy Besore for Seat 3 on the commission in the March 10 election. He also:
• Has not voted since arriving in Safety Harbor, records from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections show. He registered to vote Dec. 24 and declared his candidacy on Dec. 29.
• Never obtained a Florida driver's license or registered his car in the state, records from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles show.
He also did not have a Florida ID card until 3:58 p.m. Wednesday, hours after a reporter asked to see his identification.
When asked why he does not have a Florida driver's license, Caristinos initially told a reporter he had a license and would fax over a copy. But the copy was too dark to decipher.
Then Caristinos called back and said he wanted to talk.
He said he had faxed a copy of his Florida ID. He also acknowledged he does not have a Florida driver's license.
When asked why he lied, he said, "I'm sorry.''
Caristinos said Wednesday that he asked a friend to drive him to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a license but was turned away because his license in Maine is suspended. The reason? He did not a pay a fine for running a red light. Before that, he had five other speeding tickets.
He said Thursday he is attempting to pay the fine and get a Florida driver's license. He said the Department of Motor Vehicles told him the earliest he can get it is next week because, in addition to his other moving violations, a computer check turned up an outstanding ticket from 1985.
As for his vehicle, he said it's a "work car'' and that is why it's not registered in Florida.
He said the company that owns his car is Riptide Restaurant and Bar in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. He said he used to own the business.
"I can still drive it around,'' Caristinos said.
But, according to state law, a nonresident who accepts employment or engages in any trade, profession or occupation must register his or her car within 10 days after the commencement of such activity.
Last year, Caristinos started a pedicab business, giving tourists tours of downtown.
He also became trustee at the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History and joined the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Marketing Advisory Committee.
He volunteers at the Safety Harbor Neighborhood Family Center, Weekly Volunteer Food Pantry and the Downtown Business Council. He gives his time to Earth Dance, the Seafood Festival and the San Gennaro Festival. He is on the Third Friday Committee and is the co-chairman of the Bloom-n-Garden Chalk Fest.
His efforts have impressed the local business community, which is backing his campaign.
"He's around when anybody needs help,'' said Robin Hirschberg, owner of the Taste Cafe. "He never asks for anything in return. All he asks for is your friendship and support.''
Bobbie Davidson, director of operations at the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History and Caristinos' campaign treasurer wasn't familiar with his driver's license and other issues.
"Because of his contacts, he's helping everyone,'' she said. "The downtown businesses, the 501 3Cs, the Neighborhood Family Center. He has the ability to bring people together.''
She said Caristinos is turning the museum into a sort of welcome center for the city and is working toward making it self sufficient.
Caristinos grew up in Malden, Mass., and ran for a City Council seat there in 1993. "I ran against a 14-year incumbent and came close,'' he said.
He thinks he has a chance to win in the Safety Harbor race.
"People still value the person and what they do,'' he said. "I've done more (for the community) in three years than some people do in 30 years. I'm involved in every downtown business thing there is. Just because I failed to pay an old ticket? No. I didn't kill anybody.''
Times researchers Shirl Kennedy and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Eileen Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.