CLEARWATER — With a televised candidate forum looming Thursday, the five City Council candidates are honing their pitches, raising cash and seeking to define themselves against their opponents.
In the three-way race for Seat 4, David Allbritton said he's the best candidate to spur economic development.
Allbritton said incumbent Bill Jonson is "a typical kind of CPA," who can be too focused on what is already budgeted instead of looking for creative opportunities.
"I'm looking outside the box," Allbritton said. "Without trying to spend any more money than necessary."
Jonson, a retired project manager for Honeywell, where he held several accounting-related positions, makes no apology for his fiscal conservatism.
"It's easy to spend money. The tough thing is to decide what are the biggest priorities and which has the greatest return," Jonson said.
Allbritton pointed to a recent exchange at a candidate forum on Sand Key over "character districts," or neighborhoods that would be allowed to tweak the development code to give their area its own "special flavor."
Jonson, 69, said when he objected to the cost of that, he thought Allbritton was referring to "special overlay" districts like those that already exist in Coachman's Ridge and Island Estates.
He said he would like more details on Allbritton's ideas.
"I would certainly consider modifications," he said.
A Jonson supporter contacted the Tampa Bay Times recently to complain about the size of Allbritton's signs, which are planted in prominent locations at major intersections around the city.
Allbritton, 63, said he has taken down signs that the city has found violate the sign code.
The third candidate in the race, Konrad McCree Jr., said he has a different strategy than Jonson and Allbritton on signs and fundraising.
Unlike Jonson, who had raised $16,795 by Jan. 31, or Allbritton, who netted $15,330 in the same period, McCree has $712 in donations. He values face-to-face interaction and pledges of votes "more than just financial support," he said.
His yard signs should be out by later this week and he'll seek out corners not already inundated with political signs.
"I want to be a candidate that sticks out — a young guy who doesn't have all this political experience that the other two candidates have, isn't someone with family ties for the past 100 years, but has a sincere concern about what he really wants to do," said McCree, 29.
In the race for Seat 5, being vacated by term-limited Paul Gibson, Hoyt Hamilton has amassed the largest campaign chest of any candidate: $17,145.
His opponent, Jon-Paul Rosa, 30, who has raised $8,293, said voters aren't clear on why Hamilton resigned his council seat in 2006.
He stepped down to move closer to his sons while they attended Georgia Tech, said Hamilton, 55. He also had job opportunities in Atlanta and had the full support of his family, who own the Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Beach.
Rosa also said whether he wins or not, he's influenced Hamilton to start addressing pressing needs beyond downtown revitalization or beach development.
"He's started talking about neighborhoods more, about parks. But he'll have to learn what the next generation is embracing, while I am already in tune with where the next generation is going," Rosa said.
One example would be solar energy, he said. Rosa thinks the city should put solar panels on its buildings and consider building a "green" convention center.
Hamilton said he worked hard for neighborhoods around the city while on the council and Rosa hasn't influenced his message.
"I think he's showing his lack of knowledge of our community. He's lived here less than a year and a half," Hamilton said.
As for solar energy, Hamilton said, it's a great idea, but a costly one.
"The out-of-pocket expense is enormous and the time it takes to recoup the expense is not immediate," he said.
The next public forum will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave. It will be televised on Bright House Channel 615, WOW Channel 15 and Verizon Channel 30. The forum will also be available in the streaming video section of the city's website, myclearwater.com.
Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.