Weeks after she filed to run for re-election this November, Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala announced on Tuesday that she has decided not to pursue another term in office.
Latvala, 64, a three-term Republican from Palm Harbor who has been on the commission since 2000, said she has been debating for months whether to run again. She filed paperwork on Jan. 10 to seek another four-year term against a cast of six opponents — the most she has ever faced.
But in the weeks after she filed, her doubts persisted. Though a driven and politically ambitious person, she found the idea of planning a campaign kickoff held little appeal. On Monday, she decided to withdraw from the race.
"I just started reflecting back on my life and what I want the rest of it to look like and what I've done," she said in an interview Tuesday. "Twenty-two years I've been doing this. It's time for a break."
Latvala announced her retirement after Tuesday's commission meeting. While wiping away tears, she said serving on the board had been "the greatest honor of my life."
First elected to public office in 1992, Latvala won a seat on the School Board and, eight years later, ran for the District 4 commission seat. She faced serious opposition only once — in 2010, when a three-way Republican primary threatened to knock her out of office.
A moderate, Latvala has often ignored political lines that separate the commission's seven members, tussling just as often with her fellow Republicans as with Democrats. In 2008, she voted in favor of an ordinance banning discrimination against lesbians, gays and bisexuals, and pushed her colleagues to extend the protections to transgendered people, a step the commission refused to take until five years later.
Latvala also cast a key vote in favor of a summer ban on selling fertilizer in Pinellas, a law the commission passed in 2009 to cut pollution. Over loud objections from the fertilizer industry, Latvala said the ban should be made statewide. Taking the industry's side, the state Legislature banned other counties from passing similar ordinances.
One of relatively few woman on the commission, Latvala stood out for her frankness and biting sarcasm.
"She is the gutsiest elected official I know," said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. "If she did not agree on something, she'd let folks know that. Not all elected officials do that."
There is little doubt that if Latvala had stayed in the race, she would have won. Among her six opponents, which include three Republicans, one Democrat and two candidates who are running without a party, none is household names.
"The Latvala name is a large name in Pinellas politics and this new development does throw the election into a new dynamic," said Michael Guju, chairman of the Pinellas Republican Party. She and state Sen. Jack Latvala divorced in 2005.
Guju said he expects more candidates to come forward. "People who are probably better known."
On the subject of her retirement, Latvala said she isn't going to change her mind again.
"If you hurry up and put it in the newspaper, I can't go back," she said.
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.