TAMPA — Voters have three distinct choices in the District 5 Hillsborough County Commission campaign.
Current Commissioner Ken Hagan, a Republican, seeks to move from his current seat representing northern Hillsborough to an at-large post. He faces challenges from Democratic former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena and former planner Jim Hosler, who is running without a party affiliation.
Hagan, 43, has served eight years on the commission, the last three as its chairman. As a district commissioner, he spent his early time quietly pushing issues of local concern.
"My first few years on the board I concentrated on constituent service, which includes, championing the construction of parks, libraries and fire stations," Hagan said. "In the past several years, I've begun to focus on broad, countywide issues, primarily job creation, economic development, transportation and protecting our children."
He formed a task force to study ways to revive the economy, though its efforts have borne little fruit, and led a transportation task force that recommended the transit tax proposal also on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Despite that, he has said he plans to vote against the transit tax, expressing concern with timing during a bad economy. He voted to put the issue on the ballot, saying voters deserved to be heard on the matter.
Hagan caused a stir when he called for the county's top three executives to be fired for a variety of alleged misdeeds. Two were fired, and one survived. He has also called for dialogue over a future home for the Tampa Bay Rays, which is agitating to move from its current home in St. Petersburg, possibly to Tampa.
Saul-Sena, 59, had spent 20 years on the Tampa City Council before she was forced to resign abruptly this summer due to an oversight in attempting to qualify for the commission campaign. A former marketing and public relations official for the Tampa Museum of Art, she has built a reputation of supporting the arts, historic preservation, community planning and environmental protection.
She holds her record up in contrast to Hagan, who has a reputation as a pro-development vote dubbed by critics as being part of a "gang of four" that is too cozy with the building industry. She notes Hagan's support of a proposal, later dropped, to dismantle the county Environmental Protection Commission's oversight of construction near wetlands.
Saul-Sena is the only candidate in the race who supports the transit tax, in part, she says, because she believes it will spur redevelopment in urban areas and help curb sprawl.
"Citizens need a commissioner who will work hard to create a prosperous and competitive community and protect our quality of life. That's me," she said.
Hosler, 58, spent 18 years with the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission, chiefly as a demographer. He currently has a consulting company that seeks to help small-business development, tapping into prior work for the Florida Department of Commerce.
Hosler, who has nagging back problems, may be running one of the first campaigns for political office in Hillsborough County conducted largely by blog. He has raised little money but has stretched what he has by relying on a following of volunteers to campaign door to door.
He says he alone has the work experience to help the commission both better manage growth and also encourage job creation. And he says the county is doing a poor job of preparing for major future challenges, such as upgrades to its drinking and wastewater systems.
Much of his campaign talk has centered on the transit tax, which he opposes. He cites myriad problems with it, but particularly that the county's population and job base is spread out too much for the trains to work effectively.
"One thing about not having a lot of money, I can appreciate what people are going through," Hosler said. "If folks are happy with the way they're running Hillsborough County government, they don't need to vote for Hosler."