SAFETY HARBOR — Karen Skiff is a rough-around-the-edges, tough-talking Florida Cracker and proud of it.
And she doesn't mind a bit if voters know about her colorful background — on the contrary, she encourages it.
"I was quite a hellion,'' she said.
Skiff has emerged as one of the most blunt voices among the seven candidates competing for City Commission seats in the March 10 election. She is running for Seat 1 against incumbent Joe Ayoub and fellow challenger Robin Fornino,
Born in St. Petersburg in 1969 just a month after Woodstock, she spent most of her early years in Safety Harbor and counted former mayor and local legend Claude Rigsby as one of her mentors.
When she was 16, her parents divorced and Skiff started a period of wandering.
She eventually made her way to Leesburg when, in 2004, she was arrested and accused of assault and felony battery.
"I was jumped,'' she said. "A girl that was staying on the property, a friend of a friend, she was looking for a fight. She grabbed me and took me to the ground.
"My first thought was I'm not going to be put in a wheelchair today. I rolled her and pinned her. She was kicking me in the ribs. I was trying to take her shoe off. I broke her foot in the process.''
She spent the next eight hours at a police station telling officers it was a case of self-defense. The State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute.
Skiff spent a week in bed recovering from injuries she sustained in the fight.
In 2005, she said she moved in with a childhood friend and his family in Clearwater, just over the Safety Harbor line. At some point, she said the wife of the friend kicked her out but kept her belongings, including her dog Towanda.
Frustrated, Skiff said she broke into the house to get her things and was arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on charges of burglary of an occupied dwelling.
She was jailed for 10 days.
"I just wanted to get my dog and my stuff and go,'' Skiff said. "She wouldn't let me have my dog.''
The charges were eventually dropped. She never did get the dog back.
For the next three months, she was homeless and camped in a swampy area off McMullen-Booth Road before moving to a rental house in downtown Safety Harbor.
"I was at a bad place at a bad time,'' she said.
Now 39, Skiff is a security officer at the Pinellas County Government Complex in downtown Clearwater.
She said she is single, celibate and lives alone. She is enjoying her job and wants residents to know that she was fully investigated by the security company that hired her.
"I felt that if I was clear enough to work for a security company at the Pinellas County Government Complex, then I'm good enough for the people,'' she said.
If elected, she wants to encourage practical commerce, protect historical treasures and preserve the city's tree canopy.
She said being honest about her transgressions is part of her straightforward nature.
"The public's tired of people that hide things,'' she said.
Eileen Schulte can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.