TAMPA — The leader of an effort to create an elected Hillsborough County mayor acknowledged Tuesday it will take a miracle to get the question on this year's ballot.
"But I believe in miracles," said Mary Ann Stiles, refusing to acknowledge defeat.
Stiles and the group Elected County Mayor Political Committee Inc. had four months to collect roughly 41,000 petition signatures from registered voters to get the question on the November ballot. With the deadline looming Friday, Stiles said the group has managed to collect just 12,500.
She said she doesn't know how many petitions volunteers may have collected but not turned in to her.
Her refusal to cry uncle may reflect a desire to continue collecting donations to the cause to offset what she has spent paying professional signature gatherers.
Stiles has tried through three election cycles to get the question on the ballot, arguing that the current commission and appointed administrator form of government is outdated.
She has argued the need for a single elected official, accountable to the public, who can set an agenda on important issues such as improving the county's transportation system.
She and her family have spent tens of thousands of dollars, largely to pay people to collect signatures, but have failed to attract broader financial support for the undertaking.
The first drive was thwarted when it came a few signatures short of the number needed to make it on the ballot, though Stiles said a botched count by then-elections supervisor Buddy Johnson was to blame.
A citizen successfully challenged the ballot language on the second try.
With the economy ailing, raising money to collect signatures this go around proved particularly difficult.
"I will be back," Stiles said. "I'm not going away."
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or firstname.lastname@example.org.