CLEARWATER — The upcoming city election has gotten a lot more interesting, with a surge of new candidates talking about shaking up City Hall.
For a while, it looked like there wasn't going to be much of an election because not enough people were willing to run for City Council. But an influx of contenders has changed that.
At this point, seven people are running for two seats in the March 9 election. The races will probably start heating up after Christmas.
Most of the candidates will be campaigning for Seat 4, an office being vacated by City Councilwoman Carlen Petersen, who's leaving due to term limits.
The new candidates in that race include conservative activist Joe Paige; Herb Quintero, a tackle shop owner who fought the city over a fish mural; and businessman Wayne Carothers. They join a field that already includes past councilman Bill Jonson and South Clearwater resident Don Ward II.
The other race, for Seat 5, pits incumbent Paul Gibson against challenger Mike Reardon, a bicycle shop owner who's at odds with the city because it won't let him display bikes outside his business alongside the Pinellas Trail.
Many of the new candidates aren't happy with how Clearwater is being run, and they fault the City Council for giving high marks to the city manager and city attorney.
Here is a look at each of the contenders:
The city fined him for a mural painted on the outside of his shop, the Complete Angler, on N Fort Harrison Avenue. Officials called it a code violation. Quintero took the case to federal court and won, and now he's running for office.
"This isn't to get even for the mural," he said. "We need to change the way we're doing things around here. The people need to have a voice in their local government, and right now I don't think they do."
He's known for giving colorful speeches at public meetings, railing against government spending and taxes. This fall, he called for closing the Clearwater Beach, North Greenwood and East Branch libraries, getting people to use the downtown library instead.
"Some people may view me as kind of mean-spirited, but it gets the council's attention. I'm not afraid to tell it like it is," said Paige, a residential remodeling contractor. "I feel the city of Clearwater is fiscally on a dangerous path. The spending has gotten out of control."
A Clearwater resident for 40 years, he lives in the Morningside neighborhood and owns Carr Air Conditioning and Heating on Missouri Avenue. His mother lives in the East Gateway neighborhood, which he describes as crime-ridden.
"Clearwater hasn't gone the direction I thought it would have 10 or 15 years ago — the high taxes, the high utility bills," he said. "I would love to get in there and see where our money's going."
He's touting his experience, having served two terms on the council from 2001 to 2007. Jonson is far from a city outsider, so his rivals in the race may paint him as a status quo candidate.
"They need to look at my record and find out that I disagreed with the majority in some cases," said Jonson, a retired administrator for Honeywell. "I don't agree with everything that's been going on with the city for the last couple of years. I look forward to having a dialogue about the future of the city."
Don Ward II
The 26-year-old Army veteran works as a claims assistant at Bay Pines VA Medical Center. He has lived in Clearwater for two years and thinks people of his generation should get more involved.
The owner of Clearwater Cycling on downtown's East Street, he says the city's code enforcement regulations for businesses are too restrictive and lack common sense. He thinks Clearwater is mismanaged, spending too much on big-ticket items downtown.
"They have money for the Royalty Theatre, Water's Edge, boat slips and streetscaping, but they can't keep the Morningside Rec Center open," Reardon said. He added that the incumbent, Paul Gibson, rubs some people the wrong way.
A Clearwater Beach Realtor, he has made his mark on the council by repeatedly pushing for less city spending. This fall, he voted against a tax rate increase and suggested closing the East Branch Library to save money.
He's also known for his blunt, sardonic commentary. And he's well aware that he rubs some people the wrong way.
"You can't please all the people all the time," Gibson said. "There are ramifications for every decision, and not all decisions are easy."