LARGO — The sign in the hallway listed Wednesday's schedule at the Royal Palms retirement community: morning stretch at 10 a.m., followed by mahjong and poker at 1 p.m., a "mix and mingle" at 1:30 p.m., and a 7 p.m. showing of the movie Dolphin Tale.
There was one event not on that sign, though. Just before 8 a.m., a crowd of about 50 gathered to hear the two candidates for Largo's lone City Commission race explain why they deserve the job. Election Day is Nov. 6, and Wednesday's candidate forum was the only scheduled event for voters to hear both Robert Hunsicker and James Robinson give their sales pitches.
Commission seats are elected citywide and are nonpartisan. Hunsicker and Robinson are running for Seat 4, which is being vacated by Commissioner Gigi Arntzen, who has served since 2006. The winner will serve a four-year term and make $13,125 per year.
The Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce organized the forum, which was videotaped and is scheduled to be posted on the city's website, largo.com. .
Hunsicker, 69, called himself a fiscal conservative who would use his skills as a semiretired electrical engineer to create efficiencies in city operations. Robinson, 35, pitched himself as a humble everyman who would try to restore public safety staffing but basically approves of the job the current commission is doing.
Hunsicker said he'd look for money to add firefighters and police officers. He suggested leasing the Largo Golf Course to a private management company and soliciting sponsors for city properties (he mentioned the "Pinch A Penny Community Center" and the "Publix Cultural Center" as hypotheticals).
Robinson also talked about increasing fire and police staffing, and mentioned his experience as manager of Largo Feed & Pet Supply as good preparation for a spot on the City Commission.
"I have no lofty ambitions for a political career," Robinson said. "I simply want to help the city I love live up to its greatest potential."
The forum's tone was cordial. Neither candidate criticized or even mentioned the other. Their answers differed most when they were asked by chamber president Tom Morrissette, who moderated the forum, about the job city management is doing to spur business development.
"I believe the city is doing as much as it can," Robinson said. "I think they're doing a good job."
Hunsicker said Largo staffers interfere too much with small businesses and need to loosen restrictions, like the city's long-discussed sign ordinance.
"Sometimes the best thing government can do is just get out of the way," he said.
The men also didn't agree on a proposed domestic partnership registry, which is modeled after ordinances adopted in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater that grant rights normally reserved for marriage to unmarried couples.
Hunsicker said he'd want a legal opinion first. The commission has asked city attorney Alan Zimmet for a legal opinion on the proposed registry. Hunsicker also said that he felt this was an issue for the Florida Legislature or Pinellas County Commission, not for a city commission.
Robinson supports the registry and said his mother-in-law and her boyfriend live in Tampa and plan to register as domestic partners there.
In their closing statements, the men summarized their opening sales pitches.
Hunsicker: "I've got a lot of training, a lot of experience and I think I could really make a difference."
Robinson: "I'm trying to help out the community . . . I'm not going to sit here and tell you I'm the greatest thing ever. I'm just a regular kid from Largo."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or [email protected]