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Republican has edge in County Commission District 1 race

Neil Brickfield has the edge in cash, political experience and name recognition over Democrat Paul Matton in their contest for the Pinellas County Commission District 1 seat.

If the conservative Republican has a liability, it may be the perception that he's too partisan and confrontational for a commission that values its reputation for consensus and harmony.

Some like Republican Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold, however, say it's easy to misunderstand Brickfield.

"There's the Neil that likes the politics and likes the fight and the aggressiveness," Steingold said, "and then there's the private Neil, who's a pretty humble guy."

Brickfield grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and fell in love with Florida in 1989 when he visited the Tampa Bay area while his wife was considering a job relocation.

He served on the Safety Harbor City Commission from 2000 until 2004, when he ran unsuccessfully in the GOP primary against Ronnie Duncan, who after one term is stepping down from the countywide District 1 seat.

Brickfield is a former vice chairman of the Pinellas Republican Party and now owns a political consulting business, Brickfield & Associates. County Republican Party chair Tony DiMatteo sums up his friend's approach to campaigning with a word: relentless.

"He works and he works and he works," DiMatteo said. "No one is going to outwork him."

According to recent fundraising reports, Brickfield has a more than 8 to 1 advantage ($89,559 to $10,795) over Matton, who is vice president of Automotive Fleet Enterprises and Park Auto Mall in Pinellas Park.

Matton is making his first attempt at office. Pressed for specific criticisms of county leadership, Matton said he can't be expected to have all the answers without having been on the inside. But voters should expect him to root out widespread waste, he said.

"I will make the right decisions and I will look out for the interests of taxpayers," Matton said. "I know how to go through a budget."

St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse, who has been helping local Democrats this election cycle, said Matton brings a businessman's sense to governing and would question spending, but has been hampered on the campaign trail.

"He has a substantial job in an industry that's in meltdown," Nurse said. "And I know that affected his ability to devote his time, money and energy to the campaign."

Brickfield, who once owned and operated a cleaning service, is known as a fierce campaigner. One recent flier characterized Matton as working for a used automobile dealership that sells over the Internet.

"Don't try to make me look like a schmuck," is Matton's angry response for Brickfield. "I didn't call you a janitor."

Though Matton says the flier's characterization is misleading and inaccurate, Brickfield said the description is exactly what he was told when he called Automotive Fleet Enterprises to learn what the company did.

For Brickfield, the most pressing issue facing county government in coming years will be declines in revenue, and he would focus on making strides in three areas.

"Our priorities should be one, public safety," he said, "two, improving our economy and three watching our spending dollar by dollar."

He dismisses the partisan label, saying he has worked well with Democrats in the past. Regardless, he said, the commission handles quality of life decisions on things like land use and transportation, which don't lend themselves to partisan bickering.

The commission does, however, grapple with divisive issues.

Brickfield repeatedly refused to give a yes or no answer to whether he would have voted with a majority of commissioners in April when they expanded legal protections to gay and lesbian people. He did say that he would enforce those protections now that they are law.

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

The District 1 seat is elected by voters countywide, although candidates must live in the at-large district, which runs down the eastern half of North Pinellas and hooks into the central portion of the county. Commissioners are elected to four-year terms. They oversee an annual budget of roughly $2-billion. They are paid $90,934 a year.

• Brickfield, 45, is making a second commission bid. He lost in 2004 to Ronnie Duncan. He's a former Safety Harbor City Commissioner and past vice chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party. He owns Brickfield & Associates, a public affairs consulting firm. He lives in Safety Harbor with his wife Kelley and three children.

• Matton, 57, is making his first bid for public office. Matton is senior vice president of sales at Automotive Fleet Enterprises and Park Auto Mall in Pinellas Park. He's been active in the Florida Independent Automobile Dealers Association, serving as the group's president in 2007. He lives in Clearwater with his wife Jackie and has three adult children.

>>fast facts

Candidate profiles

The District 1 seat is elected by voters countywide

Brickfield, 45, is making a second commission bid. He lost in 2004 to Ronnie Duncan. He's a former Safety Harbor City Commissioner and past vice chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party. He owns Brickfield & Associates, a public affairs consulting firm. He lives in Safety Harbor with his wife, Kelley, and three children.

Matton, 57, is making his first bid for public office. Matton is senior vice president of sales at Automotive Fleet Enterprises and Park Auto Mall in Pinellas Park. He's been active in the Florida Independent Automobile Dealers Association, serving as the group's president in 2007. He lives in Clearwater with his wife, Jackie, and has three adult children.

Republican has edge in County Commission District 1 race 10/30/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 12:54pm]
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