Sunday, February 18, 2018
Politics

Former Pinellas Commissioner Neil Brickfield will run for open seat

Neil Brickfield, a former county commissioner who was unseated in 2012, announced Friday that he is making a bid to rejoin the board.

Though he has yet to officially file with the supervisor of elections, Brickfield, 50, a Republican, said he has decided to run for the commission's District 4 seat.

Since 2000, that seat has been held by Commissioner Susan Latvala, who announced this week that she will retire at the end of her term. Brickfield's decision makes him the eighth candidate to enter the race, and the fifth Republican.

Elected to the commission in 2008, Brickfield represented District 1, a countywide seat. District 4, where he is currently running, includes only the communities in North Pinellas, such as Safety Harbor, where Brickfield lives, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, East Lake, Tarpon Springs, and Oldsmar. Unlike the District 1 seat, which is roughly split between Democrats and Republicans, District 4 is heavily Republican.

Brickfield lost his 2012 re-election race to Democrat Janet Long, who made her support for fluoridation — and Brickfield's opposition — a core part of her campaign.

Fluoride could resurface in the 2014 election. One of the Republicans Brickfield may face in a primary is Johnny Johnson, a Palm Harbor dentist who led the pro-fluoride fight in 2012 and has also decided to pursue election to the District 4 seat.

Lauralee Westine, a lawyer and the wife of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, is also contemplating a run.

Westine, 42, has never run for office before, but the East Lake Republican said she's followed local politics and issues for years. When she heard of Latvala's plan to retire, she immediately thought of running.

"It was a put up or shut up moment," she said. "I thought: If you really care about the community, this is how you handle it."

If elected to the seven-member board, Westine would be in a position to vote on and approve Gualtieri's annual budget, which in 2014 accounted for nearly a quarter of Pinellas' overall budget.

"Do I think there's a perceived conflict there? Yes," she said. "Do I think it can be effectively managed? Yes."

Greenlight Pinellas is likely to become a focus in the campaign. Latvala was a staunch supporter of the plan to raise the county's sales tax to pay for expanded bus service and light rail, but many others in North Pinellas are less enthusiastic.

Asked Friday where he stands on the issue, Brickfield said he hasn't read it.

"It wasn't a completed project when I was there, and it's not like I spent my time in the last year and half reading government documents all day long," he said.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

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