For nearly a quarter-century, Bob Stewart has represented the people of Pinellas County.
Now at 70, the elder statesman of the County Commission won't run for re-election this fall. He wants to spend more time in Colorado, where his three sons and four granddaughters live and where he owns a home in Crested Butte.
Stewart wrestled with the decision for months.
"I will enormously miss the life of an elected official," he said Thursday. "I have been blessed and honored. I think it's time to move on and let somebody else have a crack at it."
Stewart, a Republican, spent nine years on the St. Petersburg City Council before winning a seat on the commission in 1994.
Over those years, he played a key role in bringing the Tampa Bay Rays and a federal Job Corps campus to St. Petersburg. He also helped launch the county's economic development office.
More recently, Stewart lured Fred Marquis back as interim Pinellas administrator to help stabilize a government reeling from the Jim Smith land deal.
Marquis was county administrator when Stewart was elected to the commission.
"He has just been a very solid, very consistent member of the board," Marquis said.
Former state Sen. Jim Sebesta, who may decide as early as Monday whether he will run for Stewart's seat, said the community owed his old friend a great debt.
"Now it's time for him to sit back and enjoy his life a little bit," Sebesta said, "enjoy his family more than he has been able to do for years."
Democrat Darden Rice, who narrowly lost a bid for the St. Petersburg City Council in 2005, and Nancy Bostock, a veteran Republican member of the Pinellas School Board, have committed to run for Stewart's seat.
That race pits Rice, progressive and openly gay, against Bostock, a social conservative.
Citing voter frustration with the status quo, a theme local Democrats have seized on this year, Rice said she has a strong shot at taking a seat from the GOP, which holds sway on the commission.
"I represent new leadership," she said. "By new leadership, I mean a commitment to responsible spending, a more committed conservation ethic and open and honest government."
Bostock declined to say how she will respond to being portrayed as the establishment candidate. The day, she said, should belong to Stewart. Expect more next week, she said, when she formally announces.
Also Thursday, former Safety Harbor City Commissioner Neil Brickfield entered the race to succeed County Commissioner Ronnie Duncan, who announced Tuesday he will not run to keep his countywide seat.
Brickfield joins Ray Brooks and School Board member Jane Gallucci in the Republican field. Paul Matton, a Clearwater businessman, is the Democrat in the race.
Will Van Sant can be reached at [email protected] or 445-4166.