TARPON SPRINGS — One candidate wants Tarpon Springs to take on Duke Energy and possibly start its own power company. Another candidate thinks the city needs to extend an olive branch to real estate developers. A third candidate, seen by some as the front-runner, has a laundry list of city issues she wants to tackle.
The three candidates for a Tarpon Springs City Commission seat are taking to the campaign trail with dramatically different ideas about the role of city government.
That became clear Monday night at a forum held by the Greater Tarpon Springs Democratic Club. There, the contenders in the March 11 election took questions from a crowd of about 40 people at the Tarpon Springs Community Center.
The candidates — Chris Hrabovsky, Joe Muzio and Rea Sieber — are running for Seat 2, held by term-limited Commissioner Susan Slattery.
For her part, Slattery is supporting Sieber. In fact, she recruited Sieber to run for the seat she's vacating. Sieber, 61, is the race's closest thing to an establishment candidate. She heads the Tarpon Springs Merchant Association and serves on the city's budget advisory committee and its tourism council. She's been endorsed by the city's firefighter and police unions.
A Sponge Docks business owner and former Tarpon Springs High School guidance counselor, Sieber tells voters that her listening skills and work ethic make her the best choice.
At political forums she tends to speak in generalities, touching briefly on a wide variety of issues — economic development, "smart growth," fixing up Tarpon's infrastructure, and streamlining government through random audits of city departments.
"Different people have different concerns," she said. "There are several issues in our residents' minds."
Then there is Hrabovsky, 44, a political and environmental activist in Tarpon Springs. He has been commenting at City Commission meetings for eight years and is best-known for successfully rallying opposition to a proposed Walmart supercenter on the banks of the Anclote River.
A hypnotist in private practice, Hrabovsky helps treat veterans who have PTSD. He envisions an ambitious role for city government in taking on big-picture issues like foreclosures, flood insurance and power bills.
Outraged by Duke Energy charging Florida customers $1.5 billion for a nuclear plant it will never build, Hrabovsky wants Tarpon Springs to look into running its own electric company or switching to TECO Energy. "My plan to take on Duke Energy is a real plan," he said. To those who question how realistic this is, he responds, "I was told we couldn't beat Walmart. Guess what? We beat them — badly."
The third candidate, Muzio, is a 62-year-old Realtor who ran for a commission seat in 2010. He has been a U.S. Army lieutenant and an executive at HSN, formerly Home Shopping Network, and says his business experience and military leadership set him apart. He's been on the board of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce, and he talks of stimulating economic growth. "The U.S. 19 corridor has been forgotten for many years," he said.
"I want to rekindle relationships with developers and investors," Muzio added, recalling that a member of the city's Planning and Zoning Board called one developer a "carpetbagger" at a board hearing two years ago.
A longtime volunteer at Florida Hospital North Pinellas (formerly Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital), Muzio said he was sidelined by an illness over part of the past year. "My illness is gone, I have a clean bill of health, and God has given me a second chance," he said.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.