Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Politics

North Pinellas city elections: some new faces, some old hands

Four North Pinellas County cities had elections Tuesday in a campaign season dominated by clashes over development and the entry of party politics into nonpartisan races.

Safety Harbor

Former Mayor Andy Steingold, 53, recaptured his office Tuesday in a particularly competitive race, besting incumbent Mayor Joe Ayoub by fewer than 100 votes. Steingold received 44.80 percent of the 5,973 votes cast to Ayoub's 43.35 percent.

"We fought a good race and had a good message and we came up a little short," said Ayoub, 37, an accountant and CFO. "I wish Andy Steingold the best."

Steingold, an attorney who resigned the mayor's post in 2012 and ran unsuccessfully for judge, could not be reached for comment.

City Commissioner Nancy Besore, 57, a high school teacher in Hillsborough County, resigned her seat to run for mayor but came in third with 11.85 percent of the vote.

"Well, I pretty much got clobbered," she said. "The voters have spoken."

Future development of the city's Waterfront Park — and development around the city in general — was the hallmark issue during the campaign, with Steingold presenting himself as a preservationist and implying that Ayoub was pro-development.

Andy Zodrow, 44, an environmental attorney for Hillsborough County, bested Dean Harmeson, 41, a defense consultant, to win Besore's Commission Seat 3. Zodrow captured 59.62 percent, or 3,244 votes, to Harmeson's 40.38 percent, and will serve the remaining year of Besore's term.

Carlos Diaz, 49, who owns a business consulting company, won Seat 4 on the commission. Diaz beat his opponent, Ray Irvin, 67, a retired public servant in Indianapolis and now the owner of a boat-inspection company, in a close race in which Diaz earned 51.45 percent, or 2,865 votes, to Irvin's 48.55 percent.

Clearwater

Victors in two Clearwater City Council races said their wins over well-funded opponents proved that money and help from outside political groups didn't work in a nonpartisan city election.

Incumbent Bill Jonson, 69, bested two challengers in the Seat 4 race, running up huge margins in Countryside, where the retired Honeywell project manager is a longtime resident.

Elected to his fourth term, Jonson said David Allbritton, 63, a former Downtown Development Board chairman, gave him his closest and ugliest challenge. In recent days, an outside electioneering organization made robocalls to voters with inaccurate claims about Jonson's record.

Allbritton denied any knowledge of the calls, which contained information from one of his mailers. He wasn't immediately available Tuesday.

"People just liked the way I performed on council," Jonson said, explaining his win. He netted 43 percent or 9,509 votes to Allbritton's 42 percent, a margin of less than 400 votes.

Konrad McCree Jr., 29, a business analyst and minister, finished third with 15 percent.

In the Seat 5 race, former council member Hoyt Hamilton, 55, said he enjoyed easily defeating Jon-Paul Rosa, who received more than $10,000 from the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee. Hamilton received 13,834 votes or 63 percent to Rosa's 37 percent.

"I have to wonder if the Pinellas County Democrats think that is money well spent," said Hamilton, who was a council member from 2001 to 2006 and is part owner of the Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Beach.

Rosa, 30, a student and government contract worker, was making his first run for elected office.

"I was disappointed that in this nonpartisan race, the media would bring up partisanship even though no laws were broken," Rosa said.

Tarpon Springs

A Sponge Docks business owner recruited by the commissioner she will replace and endorsed by the city's employee unions won Seat 2 on the Tarpon Springs City Commission by a wide margin in Tuesday's city election.

Rea Sieber, 61, garnered more than 45 percent of the vote in a three-way race for the seat being vacated by term-limited Commissioner Susan Slattery.

Sieber, who heads the Tarpon Springs Merchant Association and serves on city committees, got 1,742 of the 3,837 votes cast.

Realtor Joe Muzio, 62, came in second with 1,103 votes or 28.75 percent. Professional hypnotist and environmental activist Chris Hrabovsky, 44, was third with 992 votes for 25.85 percent.

Tarpon voters practically shouted their approval of the sale of a city-owned former nursing home on Walton Avenue. Only 194 of the 3,799 votes cast were against the sale. The prospective buyer has agreed to pay the city $813,000, renovate the building and open a 100-bed assisted living facility.

Belleair Bluffs

Two incumbents running in a three-way race for two seats on the Belleair Bluffs City Commission won new terms Tuesday.

Three-term Commissioner Joe Barkley, 65, came in first with 428 or 36.3 percent of the 1,177 votes cast. He was followed by two-term Commissioner Taylour Shimkus, 36, with 406 votes, or 34.4 percent.

Challenger George Lawton, 65, who contended that the incumbents had been in office too long and weren't responsive to residents, lagged behind with 343 votes, or 29.1 percent. This was Lawton's second loss in as many years.

Belleair Bluffs is a town of about 2,500 on the Intracoastal Waterway west of Largo. Barkley, an insurance agency owner, and Shimkus, who owns a direct mail company with her husband, argued the town was well-maintained and financially strong.

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