CLEARWATER — This can be a sleepy political town where City Council members and even mayors get elected without any opposition. That didn't happen this time because a field of very different candidates turned it into a lively campaign.
In the end, a couple of experienced candidates won two Clearwater City Council seats Tuesday — fending off energetic challenges from a bunch of political newcomers.
City Councilman Paul Gibson, the only incumbent in this year's race, won re-election to Seat 5 with about 57 percent of the vote, prevailing against challenger Mike Riordon.
Former two-term councilman Bill Jonson won Seat 4 with nearly 55 percent of the vote, besting a field of three other contenders — Wayne Carothers, Joe Paige and Herb Quintero.
While their political opponents could be quite critical of City Hall, the two victors were able to convince voters that their experience will help them guide Clearwater through tough economic times.
Millions of dollars in budget cuts are coming this summer due to declining tax revenue. Some of Clearwater's five libraries, among other things, could be on the chopping block.
"The candidates who ran against me, we didn't get personal. They have some ideas," Jonson said Tuesday night at his victory party at the Greektown Grille.
"We've got a huge problem ahead of us and we've got to work together, so I hope they'll be part of the solution."
Gibson was pleased that his message was able to overcome the anti-incumbency sentiment that he sees among dissatisfied voters everywhere.
Gibson and Jonson prevailed for a few key reasons: They were the best-known candidates, their campaigns were better-funded, and they were aggressive in mailing out political fliers to the thousands of Clearwater voters who requested mail ballots.
The political veterans faced a field of newcomers.
Quintero and Riordon got into the race because they're small business owners who said they found Clearwater a tough place to open a store.
Carothers ran because he said he wanted to give back to the community. Paige ran on a platform of small government and lower taxes.
Each Clearwater City Council member is elected by voters citywide and serves a four-year term.
The annual pay is $19,800 for council members — $23,794 for mayor — and the time commitment is similar to that of a second job.
Jonson will take office next week. He replaces City Councilwoman Carlen Petersen, who is leaving office due to term limits.
They join the three other council members, Frank Hibbard, John Doran and George Cretekos.
Despite the hard-fought races, turnout was low.
Slightly more than 8,000 Clearwater residents voted, compared with about 12,400 in Clearwater's 2007 municipal election and 13,500 in the 2004 city election.
Voters also rejected a proposed amendment to the city charter that would have changed the way Clearwater hires external auditors.
The charter currently requires that the city change external auditors every five years.
The amendment, if it had been approved, would have required proposals from auditors interested in the work but not mandated that a change be made.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.