Colorful cast vies for Gulfport Council seats

Published March 8 2017
Updated March 14 2017

GULFPORT — When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will decide whether to reward two City Council incumbents with another two-year term.

One incumbent has drawn token opposition. The other has drawn a crowd.

Linda Bailey filed to run in Ward 2 in November, then essentially disappeared. She did not attend two candidate forums and did not respond to questionnaires that the Tampa Bay Times and a community weekly paper sent to candidates. In an interview, she said she is running just to give people "another name" on the ballot.

That suggests clear sailing for incumbent Christine Anne Brown, a community activist and teacher who is seeking a third term in Ward 2, which covers the southeast quarter of the city.

In Ward 4, however, incumbent Michael Fridovich has three opponents. They all criticize him for poorly representing the district, which stretches across the city's northeast quadrant.

Although candidates must live in the districts they seek to represent, voting is citywide.

Here's what you need to know about the six candidates:

Ward 2

Christine Anne Brown: Brown, 56, stresses her leadership and community involvement, calling herself "enthusiastic about the future, compassionate about the issues."

Her husband is a descendant of a founding Gulfport family, and her activism includes two decades at the Gulfport Historical Society, where she is now chairperson.

Brown is a longtime math teacher at Boca Ciega High School and has a bachelor's degree from Eckerd College, a teacher certificate from the University of South Florida in Tampa and a master's from the University of Florida.

She lost council campaigns in 2005 and 2007, but ran unopposed in 2013 and 2015.

She cites the strides the city has made — in sewers, streets and parks and along the waterfront — and projects that are in the works, like a mooring field and improvements to Shore Boulevard.

She also said she would rather postpone or cancel a project than raise fees or the property tax.

Linda Bailey: Bailey, 41, says she moved here from Virginia a year ago, when she and her husband built a house on 54th Street S. She identifies as a Republican and her email address has the words "LindaKTrump."

In her filing papers, she says her husband is her sole source of income and his principal business activity is sales.

In an interview, Bailey acknowledged she is an unconventional candidate. "To be honest, I'm just putting my name (on the ballot) as another name" to vote for, she said.

Bailey also said she does interior design work and would like to help beautify the city.

Ward 4

Michael Fridovich: This is the first time Fridovich, 69, has drawn opposition. He ran unopposed in 2013 and 2015.

A Vietnam combat veteran who has lived in Gulfport for seven years, Fridovich said his income comes from Social Security and disability payments and a part-time job as a salesman for a cigar company. He and a partner are starting a small technology company, he said.

Fridovich has a bachelor's degree in urban studies from Georgia State University.

He said he is aware that some residents of Ward 4 consider it the red-headed stepchild of the city and that his three opponents contend he has not done enough for the district. He doesn't buy it.

During his four years on the council, he said, the city has spent $1,520,269 in Ward 4. That spending includes improvements to Tomlinson Park, alley and road work, sidewalk replacement and stormwater repairs.

He has endorsements from Mayor Sam Henderson and former Mayors Michael Yakes and Yvonne Johnson, he said.

He hopes to continue efforts to establish a mooring field, improve infrastructure and make government buildings more energy efficient.

His involvement in the community gives him an edge over his opponents, Fridovich said.

"People don't endorse you because you're a nice person,'' he said, "and yard signs don't vote."

Richard Fried: Fried, 51, says he got lost in Gulfport on his way to Tampa and decided to stay.

"There's a certain energy – a funkiness – to Gulfport," he said.

The self-styled progressive has lived in Gulfport for nearly 10 years. He decided to make his first foray into local politics after Donald Trump was elected.

"I've elected to run (for office), not protest," he said.

He lists his duplex and job as a medical technician at a St. Petersburg assisted living facility as his sources of income.

He said he has attended Pinellas Technical College, the University of Southern Maine, Florida International University and Miami Dade College and studied health care, communication theory, hospitality management and liberal arts.

Fried, who describes himself as a "Bernie Sanders kind of guy," is a former activist and street performer who brings a certain theatricality to his campaign. He has drawn attention by wearing an elf costume to a City Council meeting and reading from Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss.

Fried said one of the main issues he wants to address is tenant rights for the people who live in an apartment building that would be displaced under a proposal to put a Dunkin' Donuts drive-through at 56th Street S and Gulfport Boulevard.

Bobby Reynolds: Reynolds' campaign grew out of his concerns about the park near his home.

A skate park at Tomlinson Park, at 54th Street and 19th Avenue S, was closed by the city, and Reynolds contends that more than $200,000 in improvements in playground and fitness equipment was slow to arrive.

"They should've been done earlier," said Reynolds, 49.

He contends that Fridovich didn't begin to stress improvements in Ward 4 until he decided to seek re-election.

Reynolds' ideas for Gulfport include increased beautification efforts, speeding up sewer system repairs and improving recreation opportunities.

Reynolds, a self-described military brat as a boy, spent six years in the Navy. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and a law degree from Stetson University College of Law.

He is married with three young children and works for a Largo security firm. He also runs a virtual law practice from his home. He has lived in Gulfport for 11 years.

Ernest Stone: No candidate has lived in Gulfport longer than Stone, a resident for 40 years.

He settled in Gulfport a couple of years after graduating from high school in Jacksonville. Over the years, he drove an ambulance, served as a dispatcher for the Largo Police Department and worked in security at Stetson University College of Law. In retirement now, he lists Social Security as his source of income.

Stone, 69, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 1985, 1999 and 2001, said he got into the race out of frustration with the performance of Fridovich.

"I just don't see him getting anything done," Stone said, pointing to photos of broken fences and derelict houses.

Stone said he wants to step up the city's code enforcement and add another officer.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Stone had several brushes with the law, according to court records. In 1980, he was sentenced to six months' probation and a fine after arrests for disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest without violence, and in 1985 he got 10 days in jail, six months' probation and a fine after arrests for DUI and misdemeanor criminal mischief.

Stone acknowledges problems in the past, and Don W. Howard, the public safety chief at Stetson, said he was aware of them when the school hired Stone.

"We all make mistakes, and we can't allow our mistakes to define us," said Howard. Stone, who worked at Stetson for nine years, "is a truly decent Christian man who has a tremendous sense of community and family," he said.

Editor's note: This article was changed to reflect this correction — An earlier version of this story included an incorrect account of Fried's voting record in Gulfport municipal elections.

Ryan Callihan, Tyler Gillespie and Devin Rodriguez are student journalists at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Information from the Gabber, a weekly newspaper that serves Gulfport, was used in this report.