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Tarpon Springs Mayor Archie succeeds with soft, helpful approach

TARPON SPRINGS — In a small city like Tarpon Springs, there are no poll numbers or consultants to gauge the popularity of politicians. But fans of Mayor David Archie say there's a reason nobody challenged his recent bid for re-election: He's too good to beat.

"It's not because nobody wants to be mayor," said City Manager Mark LeCouris. "It would be crazy to run against David with his record of community service. What's going to be your platform?"

Archie, 60, who directs a community nonprofit while also serving as mayor, was sworn in recently for his second and final term as the city's highest elected official. He'll term out in 2016.

In Tarpon Springs, the hired city manager handles day-to-day operations, while the elected mayor acts as the figurehead, attending ribbon cuttings, lobbying lawmakers in Tallahassee and running City Commission meetings. For that, Archie is paid $13,000 per year.

As mayor, Archie's power is the soft sort. He can use his platform to make his messages public and control the City Commission's debate. But like the four other members of the commission, he only gets one vote.

"People think I've got all this power," Archie said, laughing. "But I tell them, 'Look, my vote doesn't count any more than anyone else.' "

A self-described diplomat, Archie seeks to maintain a friendly atmosphere at meetings, talking softly and smiling wryly during occasional jokes. He measures his comments, speaking last at meetings and not for long.

His low-key tone has largely helped him avoid confrontation as mayor of a city where local politicians have had their share of showdowns.

In fact, Archie took some residents by surprise in January when he used an angry tone with the city's Planning and Zoning Board, calling volunteers out by name for bullying applicants who want to open Tarpon Springs' businesses.

"That is disrespectful and rude," Archie said at the time. "This is not a threat, but it is a promise: If you're disrespectful of people coming before the city, you should not be representing the people of Tarpon Springs, plain and simple."

Attorney Mary Klimis Coburn said she appreciates Archie's even keel, even if she often disagrees with his votes.

"He weighs each decision carefully," she said. "He doesn't shoot from the hip."

She offered this story about Archie: Two years ago, Coburn took on the legal case of a high school teenager who came to blows with another student over a girl.

The other student's family wanted tough penalties for Coburn's client, whom she called a model student.

Archie was acquainted with the teenager and testified on his behalf. The mayor's words were "icing on the cake for the judge," who gave the student 30 days in jail, probation and community service rather than prison time.

"(Archie) understood this was a good kid who would do the right thing if the court was to allow it," said Coburn, adding the student now attends St. Petersburg College.

Archie's City Hall office — which he jokes is a "city loan" — is spacious, with plush chairs, big windows and a shelf of awards. But he still works a full schedule at Citizens Alliance for Progress, which helps low-income people access tutoring, parenting classes and health care, among other things.

Even most of his mayoral work takes place outside the office.

"It doesn't matter if you're at the grocery store or walking down the street, people see you and you're the mayor and they want you to help with their problems," he said.

Resident requests range from serious to ridiculous. Soon after Archie was elected, he was asked to settle a dispute between neighbors. A man's dog was defecating in his neighbor's yard.

Rather than roll his eyes, Archie smiled and tried to help.

"Have you consulted with your homeowner association?" Archie asked. "Talked to the neighbor?"

Archie's helpful attitude helped him make history in 2010 when, after a combined 10 years on the commission, he was elected Pinellas County's first black mayor.

His robust community support enabled him to squash the election's racial undertones, with some people of all backgrounds wondering whether Archie would steer money or favors toward the black community.

Archie acknowledges those voices, and responds carefully.

"When I was a child it didn't feel like everyone had access to city government. Only a certain group," Archie said. "These days, I hope everyone who wants to have their voices heard knows they can come to City Hall and get a fair hearing."

Archie said he frequently faces questions about his political goals when his reign as mayor ends. Does he want to be a county commissioner? A state legislator?

He's not sure he wants to deal with the back patting and "go along to get along" attitude required — especially at the state level.

Besides, Archie's roots are in Tarpon Springs, he said, where he's got constant, tangible reminders that change is possible.

He directs his nonprofit from the Union Academy building, where Archie attended the former all-black elementary school.

And when he takes the mayor's seat at City Hall, he remembers his dad, who also served with dignity at City Hall — as a custodian.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or (850) 323-0353.

Tarpon Springs Mayor Archie succeeds with soft, helpful approach 04/19/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 6:12pm]
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