Despite a contentious history, both candidates for Largo's City Commission Seat 3 in the Nov. 3 election say they're putting past differences behind them.
"I will run on my own merits only," said local activist Curtis Holmes. "I'm not going to sling any mud. It doesn't serve any purpose."
Incumbent Commissioner Rodney Woods said his focus will be on his own campaign as well.
"I'm not running against anybody," Woods said.
But while discussing their plans to steer clear of negativity, Woods called Holmes a liar and Holmes accused Woods of being drunk in a face-to-face meeting 2 1/2 years ago.
The friction between the men traces back to 2007, when Holmes was critical of Woods' support of former City Manager Steve Stanton, who was fired after news of his plans to become a woman became public. Stanton, now city manager in Lake Worth, has since undergone gender reassignment surgery and changed her name to Susan.
Shortly after Woods voiced support of Stanton, Holmes sent Woods an e-mail telling Woods he made an a-- out of himself.
A couple of months later, Holmes became the subject of a Largo police inquiry after Woods told authorities that Holmes met him at City Hall and threatened to expose "dirt" on him if he didn't resign.
Holmes, who denied making threats, told police the two discussed a reclaimed water project. The case was closed when no third party could corroborate either man's account.
Last year, Holmes filed a complaint against Woods with the Florida Commission on Ethics, claiming Woods had acted inappropriately by supporting construction of a city memorial to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and raising money for it. The commission dismissed the complaint, saying it found nothing to support the allegation.
Woods said he now doesn't buy Holmes' claim that he's going to play nice.
"That's the same guy that came to City Hall and threatened me and lied about it," Woods said.
Holmes again denied making threats Thursday and accused Woods of being "in a drunken stupor" during the 2007 meeting.
"It doesn't matter what was said. It was hearsay. The investigation proved nothing," maintained Holmes, who has said he quit drinking after he was arrested on charges of driving under the influence in the 1980s. "All I can say is I had a clear mind."
Woods denied Holmes accusation.
"I was absolutely not drunk," Woods said. "That's another lie, basically."
Woods' campaign materials don't include references to Holmes.
Some of Holmes materials do, however, take jabs at Woods. On Holmes' campaign Web site, he refers to Woods as an "ineffective commissioner" and says that Woods merely repeats what others say.
He also criticized Woods' comments during budget talks about having to raise the tax rate or cut services.
"With me, voters have a candidate experienced in the business world who thinks outside the box," Holmes wrote on the site.
Woods said that anyone can say they want to think out of the box.
"If you don't build a consensus, and if you don't get three other people to think the way you do, then your idea goes nowhere," Woods said.
Where they stand
City leadership: Holmes believes the city staff manipulates elected officials. "I'm really upset the way staff pushes the elected body around," Holmes said.
Woods disagrees. "I believe staff brings us every side of an issue and we decide which way we want to go"
Largo's landmark Clock Tower: Both candidates say razing the tower was a waste of tax dollars. Woods said he would have preferred that the money go toward the city's outreach program or something else.
Budget woes: Woods recently voted to raise the property tax rate to the rollback rate, which brings in about the same revenue as last year. He says he did so to avoid deep service cuts, but he will not support any property tax rate increase in the future. Next budget year, the city will have to cut some services and some workers to balance the budget, Woods said. "I am not going to sugar coat anything," he said.
Holmes, who opposes raising taxes, thinks the city has other options.
He has proposed a variety of measures to save the city money or bring in revenue. Those include selling ad space on Largo garbage trucks and recruiting neighborhood associations, civic clubs and other groups to decorate Largo Central Park for Christmas rather than paying a company to do so.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.