CLEARWATER — As the five candidates for City Council enter the final full month of campaigning for the March 11 election, their war chests are filling up — or not — as signs have sprouted on lawns and at intersections.
Hoyt Hamilton, who is running to replace term-limited Seat 5 council member Paul Gibson, is a big believer in yard signs.
"You have to have the ability to print signs and have mailings to get them to the voters. That's what I'm saving my money to do, minimizing my other expenses," said Hamilton, who previously served on the council from 2001 to 2006.
Hamilton had raised $10,020 by the end of December, according to the latest filings at the City Clerk's office. He had spent just $1,686.
His opponent, Jon-Paul Rosa, has taken a different tack. Rosa has used his campaign cash to rent Drew Street office space, and his treasurer's reports are replete with small expenditures for pizza, gum and candy.
Rosa said he wanted to reward his dedicated band of 20 or so volunteers who knocked on doors, stuffed envelopes and talked to voters at the polls during last month's Republican primary for the District 13 congressional seat.
"People are coming from all over Clearwater to help. They donate their gas and time. Sometimes it's the least we can do, to buy them some $5 pizzas. It's like a thank you for coming out," said Rosa, who is making his first run for public office.
Rosa raised $7,295 and spent $6,092 by the end of December, including $1,345 for the rent and security deposit on his campaign headquarters.
Having a headquarters was more "professional," Rosa said.
Hamilton said he wouldn't spend his donations on volunteer appreciation and office space.
"That doesn't get the message out," he said.
But Rosa said his emphasis on grassroots campaigning is yielding results.
"I'm getting a lot of positive feedback. People tell me it's good to see a new face (running for council)," he said.
Seat 4 incumbent Bill Jonson raised $10,420 by Dec. 31, nearly half in personal loans.
Priming the pump with his own money is how he has always jumpstarted his campaigns, Jonson said. The filing period ended before his well-attended official campaign kickoff in early January at the Sheraton Sand Key.
Challenger David Allbritton, who slightly out-raised Jonson during the filing period with $10,985, said he has concentrated on building cash to spend on raising his visibility, especially with yard signs.
"I thought it was important to get my name out there," Allbritton said.
Neither Jonson nor Allbritton had spent much of their money by the end of 2013.
The third candidate for Seat 4, Konrad McCree, didn't report any contributions for December. McCree has raised $550 so far and spent $506. He didn't return a call requesting comment.
In the first candidate forum last month, McCree and Rosa both presented themselves as fresh faces who would look out for the city's neighborhoods outside of Clearwater Beach and downtown.
Steve Sarnoff, president of Local 3179 of the Communication Workers of America, encouraged both political novices to run.
"For years we haven't been able to get any diversity on the council — candidates that people in the community would be able to identify with," Sarnoff said.
Rosa is Puerto Rican. McCree is African-American.
Sarnoff, who represents about 1,000 hourly Clearwater city employees, said he thought Rosa and McCree would be "more open to new ideas," including upcoming negotiations on the CWA contract, due to start this spring or summer.
All five candidates are expected to appear at two upcoming forums. The Sand Key Civic Association will host the candidates Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center on Sand Key, 1001 Gulf Blvd.
Another forum will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at City Hall in the council chambers. That forum will be videotaped and replayed on city cable.
Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.