LEALMAN — Folks who follow the political scene in this unincorporated area had a bit of a surprise at last week's candidates forum sponsored by the Lealman Community Association.
The much anticipated confrontation between John Frank, a former Lealman fire commissioner, who is challenging Vivian Diane Campbell for her seat on the board, was remarkably tame. It produced none of the fireworks that normally explode whenever Frank and Campbell appear on the same dais.
Instead, the sparks came from another source — the previously low-key race for Pinellas County sheriff. Republican incumbent Jim Coats and Democratic challenger Randall Jones spent their five minutes spitting and snarling at each other. Each of them accused the other of being unethical and unfit to serve.
Jones also accused Coats of misusing his office to urge a judge to reduce the probation on a felony traffic charge for a friend and political supporter. Jones' accusation turned on a letter Coats wrote two years ago. Jones said the letter asked a judge for leniency for Robert D. McIntyre, founder of Ditek, a multimillion dollar Largo company that makes electronic surge protectors. McIntyre had pleaded no contest to leaving the scene of an accident that involved bodily injury.
Coats told the Lealman audience that Jones was misreading the letter. Coats said the letter only lists McIntyre's good works. A copy of the letter given to the Neighborhood Times by Jones' campaign bears out Coats' statement. The letter, which is on Sheriff's Office stationery, never specifically addresses McIntyre's sentence.
At the time, Coats was reported as saying he regretted writing the letter because it could create a "misperception" about his involvement. The Hillsborough judge who terminated McIntyre's probation said at the time that Coats' letter had no influence on his decision.
The audience had more to consider than the sheriff's race. They heard presentations from Bob Hackworth, the Democrat running against Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young for the U.S. House, as well as local and countywide candidates.
Audience members got their first look at Christopher Peters, the South Pasadena resident who is running against Democratic incumbent Janet Long for state House District 51. Peters, a Republican, had been drafted only days before to replace Terry Sanchez, who withdrew from the race late last month.
Peters, 24, a lifeguard at Fort De Soto Park, positioned himself as a "fresh face and a fresh voice" who understands the difficulties facing voters. The Florida State University grad said he has been laid off twice from government jobs. He also touted his family ties, among them his mother, Kathleen Peters, a South Pasadena city commissioner who accompanied her son to the forum.
Peters neglected, however, to tell the audience that, if they want to vote for him, they will have to mark the name "Terry Sanchez." It was too late to change the ballots when Sanchez pulled out.
The biggest applause of the evening went to Rene Flowers, a candidate for the Pinellas County Commission. Flowers, a Democrat, ran over her Republican opponent Nancy Bostock.
Bostock read most of her comments, rarely looking up from her script. Flowers gave a dynamic speech without notes and hit on every issue dear to the hearts of Lealman residents, from the lack of fire hydrants to annexation.
She also dealt with any suspicion residents of the unincorporated area might have that she would favor cities because she once served on the St. Petersburg City Council. Her tactics: Aligning herself with County Commissioner Ken Welch, a Lealman favorite, and expressing her support for getting more fire hydrants in Lealman because it is "simply the right thing to do." Flowers then attempted to seal the deal by saying, "If Lealman wants to remain Lealman, I wholeheartedly support Lealman remaining Lealman."