Opposing views define County Commission District 3 race

Both are local political veterans. Both are women. But similarities may end there between Nancy Bostock and Rene Flowers.

The two candidates for the Pinellas County Commission District 3 seat have divergent visions of the role that government should play. Their views cast light on how they will perform if elected Nov. 4 to the countywide office.

Bostock, a Republican who has spent a decade on the School Board, views government as often a drag on community welfare. Flowers, a Democrat who served eight years on St. Petersburg's City Council, sees government as a balm for social woes.

Bostock's conservatism extends to social issues. She has spoken out against school district policies that protect the rights of gay people. Flowers voted for a human rights ordinance in St. Petersburg that granted them protections.

"The Flowers/Bostock race, in my view, is a localized version of the McCain/Obama race," said County Commissioner Ken Welch, a Flowers backer. "They represent different approaches to the role, structure and scope of government."

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Bostock, 40, was elected to the School Board in 1998. A Pinellas native, she lives in St. Petersburg with her husband, Craig, and three children. The couple is white. Two of their children are adopted, an African-American son and a bi­racial daughter.

In addition to speaking out against creating special protections regarding sexual orientation, as a School Board member Bostock opposed a new tax to raise teachers' wages and defended students who sported the Confederate flag on their clothes.

She did so on free-speech grounds, saying in an interview Friday that students should be held harmless for attire that packs a political message. Confederate flag T-shirts or Malcolm X T-shirts are fine by her, she said.

That position dovetails with Bostock's explanation of why she opposes laws, such as one recently enacted by the County Commission, that extend legal protections based on sexual orientation. Bostock said such laws hamper recognition of people's shared traits.

"What concerns me is that we spend too much time focusing on our differences," she said. "I don't understand why."

The School Board has gained a reputation for bickering. Observers say Bostock has attempted to stay above the fray, but on the whole, the board has been unable to focus on urgent issues like the district's poor graduation rate.

"She hasn't been someone who has typically ranted and raved at meetings," said Terry Boehm, president of the Pinellas Education Foundation. "But at the end of the day we should have had our eye on the ball and done a much better job for our kids."

Even those she has sparred with, like the leader of the local teachers union, says Bostock works hard and comes to meetings prepared.

If elected, Bostock would help direct a county government that in recent years has tried to address problems such as affordable housing and homelessness. She's skeptical of these ventures, saying spending dollars to help people whose money you've just taken in taxes is "not always the best way to go."

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Flowers, 44, served on St. Petersburg's City Council from 1999 until early this year. Divorced with two adult children and one minor child, she lives in St. Petersburg, where she was born, and works for a nonprofit that aids seniors.

While on the council, creating affordable housing was Flowers' signature issue. She helped launch a committee that, among other things, increased down payment and closing cost assistance to eligible home buyers.

She cites as a proud achievement standing firm in 2000 when the council forced Bayfront Medical Center out of a hospital cooperative that embraced some elements of Catholic doctrine. The religious association, Flowers says, limited access to treatment at Bayfront.

Flowers also gave vigorous support to summer youth employment programs.

Former council colleagues say Flowers was tireless.

"She worked hard," said James Bennett, now council chairman. "I give her lots of credit."

Bennett also said Flowers has a personality to match her powerful work drive. She doesn't back down easily and can nurse a grudge, he said, which leads some to see her as unbending and prickly.

"I can be very vocal," Flowers said in an interview Friday. "And yeah, when I have something to say, I don't mince words. And for some people, that's considered very confrontational."

Near the end of her time in office, Flowers was named president of the Florida League of Cities, where she again championed the need for workforce housing in the state.

While she acknowledges the need for fiscal restraint, Flowers said that if government ignores community needs, progress is jeopardized. And any elected official who would deny adequate social services to citizens, she said, can't legitimately claim to care for the community.

If elected, Flowers would bring to three the number of African-Americans who sit on the seven-member commission. She expects, but isn't counting on, energetic support for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to translate into votes for her and other Democrats lower down the ticket.

"I'm not trying to walk in," she said. "I want to earn my way in."

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And yes, Bostock backs Republican presidential candidate John McCain; Flowers is voting for Obama.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 727-445-4166.

School Board member Nancy Bostock and former St. Petersburg City Council member Rene Flowers are running for the District 3 Pinellas County Commission seat, which is being vacated by Bob Stewart. Voters will decide the countywide race Nov. 4. Commissioners serve four-year terms and oversee a budget of roughly $2-million. They're paid $90,934 annually.

Here are what the two candidates cite as important achievements while in office:

Bostock

•Expanding the district's fundamental schools program, which offers a "back to basics" approach to education

•Increasing standards and accountability to improve student achievement

•Helping to end decades of federal oversight of the district stemming from a desegregation lawsuit Flowers

•Increased attention to the need for affordable housing in St. Petersburg and across the state

•Ensured that care at Bayfront Medical Center was not restricted due to religious doctrine

•Ensured that programs that employed youth in St. Petersburg during the summer were funded

Opposing views define County Commission District 3 race 10/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 6:10pm]

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