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Al Higginbotham's County Commission Seat 4 challengers think there's more work to be done

Al Higginbotham, center, and other county officials watch as Reginald Ferguson signs a lease to be one of the first in the rehabilitated Friendship Village on E 127th Avenue. The county used Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds for the project.

Courtesy of Carol Michel

Al Higginbotham, center, and other county officials watch as Reginald Ferguson signs a lease to be one of the first in the rehabilitated Friendship Village on E 127th Avenue. The county used Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds for the project.

Ask Al Higginbotham what he has accomplished in the last six years as a county commissioner, and he'll sound off a list:

He helped stabilize county spending. He met with ambassadors and representatives from 30 countries to help build the county's international presence and diversify the economy. He fought to keep a public transportation system connecting east Hillsborough County and Tampa, and has worked to make sure all road improvement projects are on schedule.

"There's a long ways to go," said Higginbotham, 58. "It's a never-ending process and it's never about just one person."

Whether those accomplishments are enough to help Higginbotham continue being part of the process will be determined on Election Day.

Higginbotham, who took office after a special election in 2006, is facing off in November against Democrat Mark Nash and independent Joy Green for the commission District 4 seat.

Nash has a hard time giving Higginbotham much credit, and said his list of accomplishments was lacking in some areas.

"Why are we hearing nothing about jobs? The idea of being connected and developing international contacts, that's not what local government is about," Nash said. "Local government here is about quality of life issues."

But Higginbotham said east Hillsborough has been growing and developing despite the struggling economy.

The commission is interviewing candidates for an economic development position that will be responsible for helping develop sites for new businesses in east Hillsborough, he said.

New businesses and employers, like the Cooley Law School, have already made their home here, Higginbotham said.

"We're all playing on a sloppy playing field," Higginbotham said. "The conditions are rough, but we're coming out of it. And we're going to be in a better position than counties around us and in the nation."

But Nash, a self-employed political consultant, disagreed, and said Higginbotham could be working much harder to bring better jobs to the area.

"Bringing a law school here, I wonder if the world really needs more lawyers," he said. "Certainly enhancing education options for residents is a good thing, but we need corporate industry, manufacturing jobs here that pay living wages."

Nash was also critical of Higginbotham's handling of what he called "The Regent Scandal."

The center, which was built using nearly $7 million in local, state and federal money for construction, owes the county $35,000 after a county audit found the money was misspent.

Regent officials have paid $10,000 on the debt and crafted a commission-approved plan to pay back the remainder.

"I think Commissioner Higginbotham has shown what he's capable of," Nash said. "I think it's time to turn the page and start a new chapter for people in east Hillsborough County."

Green, who is running with no party affiliation, said she is against speaking negatively about her opponents throughout the course of the campaign.

"I believe it is time for a change of leadership," she said. "I have chosen to run a positive campaign and the people I speak with every day appreciate this because they are tired of party politics."

If elected, she said she would do a better job of interacting with constituents, furthering the county's international trade business and connecting the government and the people.

But Higginbotham, who prides himself on bringing civility to the commission and improving its public image, is confident he can win the election. He will continue to serve the people of District 4 to the best of his ability, he said.

"We've made great strides through a tough economic climate, but there's so much left to do," Higginbotham said. "I'm excited about the prospects of Hillsborough County, especially eastern Hillsborough County."

Al Higginbotham's County Commission Seat 4 challengers think there's more work to be done 10/27/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 27, 2012 4:31am]

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