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Race for Largo City Commission offers study in contrasts

LARGO — It's not hard to spot differences between James Robinson and Robert Hunsicker, the two candidates for Largo's lone open City Commission seat.

Robinson is a lot younger, and a lot bigger. The 35-year-old manager of Largo Feed & Pet Supply is 6 feet 3 and built like an offensive lineman. Hunsicker is a 69-year-old semiretired electrical engineer. He's built like, well, a 69-year-old semiretired electrical engineer. He's 2 inches shorter than Robinson and a great deal smaller.

But if you listen to the men talk about why they're running, it quickly becomes clear there's more that separates them than size.

So which one should you vote for on Nov. 6? Well that probably depends, in part, on how you answer this question: What do you think of the job the current commission is doing?

This is Hunsicker's third try at a commission spot. When former Commissioner Andy Guyette left midterm in 2008, Hunsicker applied. The commissioners appointed Robert Murray instead.

In 2010, Hunsicker was one of two challengers to Commissioner Harriet Crozier. Hunsicker finished second, with 32 percent to Crozier's 41 percent.

Hunsicker and Robinson both think Largo should hire more firefighters and more police officers. After that, though, Hunsicker has more specific ideas of what he'd do in office.

Hunsicker wants the Largo Public Library to reopen on Sundays. (The library dropped Sunday hours due to budget cuts in 2011.) He also wants to expand the hours for Southwest Pool.

How will he pay for that? Hunsicker wants to privatize Largo Golf Course, a perennial budget loser that has started to make more money for the city in recent months. He wants to explore sponsorship deals for city events and city buildings. He wants to retrain the city staff, which he thinks is not business-friendly enough.

Implicit in Hunsicker's ideas, though, is the belief that the current commission is missing opportunities and misspending tax dollars.

"I think I can make a difference" said Hunsicker. "I know I'm pretty smart and I'm pretty practical, and I see people going off track … I think the city has gone off course."

Hunsicker thinks he can work with current commissioners, but at least one group in Largo is skeptical — its firefighters.

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Robinson speaks less about specific things he would do as commissioner, and more about bringing his perspective to City Hall. Robinson is a 1995 Largo High School graduate. He has lived all but two of his 35 years in Largo. He regularly takes his two daughters, ages 12 and 4, to city facilities.

"I'm enveloped in Largo," he said. "I think that allows me to see things a little bit different than someone who is more critical and wants to change everything."

Largo Professional Firefighters Local 2427 agrees. The union endorsed the political newcomer Robinson, even though Hunsicker also wants to hire more firefighters.

"It takes building a consensus on the commission to change anything," said Macho Liberti, the union's secretary-treasurer. "We felt James would have a better chance at doing that."

Robinson was arrested for driving under the influence twice in Missouri, he said, in 1999 and in 2001.

"I was just acting like a fool. I was young and stupid and I didn't know what I was doing," Robinson said of the arrests. "I've learned my lesson."

Robinson has a valid driver's license, and says he doesn't have a drinking problem. He has matured since his arrests, he said, and never again wants his wife and daughter to have to pick him up at a jail.

Robinson works about 60 hours per week at Largo Feed & Pet Supply, and acknowledges he doesn't get enough time with his daughters. But he still wants to be commissioner, a nonpartisan, citywide job with a four-year term and a salary of $13,125 per year.

Like Hunsicker, Robinson says he's definitely not running for the money.

"I'm just trying to help," he said.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Race for Largo City Commission offers study in contrasts 10/09/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 5:42pm]

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