Candidates are grappling for a last-minute edge as Election Day looms in Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar.
Thousands of mail ballots already have been returned by voters, and both city governments are ramping up to serve voters at polling places Tuesday. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In Tarpon Springs, four candidates are vying for one City Commission seat. In Oldsmar, it's a three-way race for a spot on the City Council.
The nonpartisan races so far have had few departures from the routine, except for some stolen signs and, in an unusual step for a small-town race, a 30-second television commercial.
There's still plenty of suspense for the candidates and their supporters, and for elected officials wondering who they will serve with next.
"No matter how many elections I have been through, every election is as exciting as the rest," said Tarpon Springs City Clerk Irene Jacobs, who oversees the city election there.
Tarpon Springs race
David Banther, Jim Bouldin, Tommy Frain and Tim Keffalas are competing for City Commission Seat 4, soon to be vacated by Commissioner Chris Alahouzos.
Keffalas, 58, owns Automotive Expressions, which accessorizes cars and personalizes gifts. His memberships include Sister Cities of Tarpon Springs, the Halki Society and the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society. He previously served on the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral Parish Council.
Banther, 30, has served on the city's Budget Advisory Committee and the Historic Preservation Board and is a member of the Rotary Club. He works for his family's consulting firm as a daily money manager. He said his top priorities if elected would be to balance the city budget without using reserves and growing the city's tax base.
Frain, 22, touts his economics degree as a way to help Tarpon businesses flourish. A server at Miss Vicki's on the River in Holiday, Frain created the local Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, a group that wants a citizen review board of the Police Department. He wants to work on streamlining the city permitting process to make the city more attractive to businesses.
Bouldin, 59, returned to Tarpon Springs five years ago after a 15-year stint as a newspaper publisher in Michigan, and he is now a contracted advertising representative for the Hernando Today newspaper. Bouldin's focus is on economic development and increasing the city's stock of affordable housing.
The candidates are rising early and going to bed late, scheduling automated calls, gathering last-minute endorsements and printing brochures to take with them as they campaign door-to-door.
Altogether, they have spent more than $15,000. Keffalas has spent more than any other candidate and financed his own TV commercial, but says, "If I win, I win. If not, I'll continue to be in the community doing what I do."
Candidates also are touting their endorsements.
The Pinellas Realtors Association endorsed and donated to Tommy Frain, while the Tarpon Springs Firefighters Association endorsed David Banther.
Voter turnout has varied widely in previous Tarpon Springs elections, with 2,000 to 5,000 people weighing in. Tarpon residents had cast about 2,036 mail votes as of March 6. And if previous elections are any indication, those mail-in votes might determine the winner.
Turnout is expected to be fairly low, since Mayor David Archie won re-election unopposed and the ballot has only one commission race.
Some candidates have planned election night parties. However Bouldin, who has been campaigning door to door, said he will be in his living room soaking his feet in Epsom Salts.
In Oldsmar, three political newcomers are vying for City Council Seat 3, which Doug Bevis, who won the mayor's post without opposition, will soon vacate with two years left in his term.
Dan Saracki, 53, owns Oldsmar's Impact Grafx Inc., is president of the Eastlake Oaks Homeowners Association and serves on the neighborhood's Community Development District board. He said he hopes to attract more retailers and housing to the city and encourage community involvement and civic pride.
Suda Yantiss-Colon, 50, owns Oldsmar's Weddings by Suda and Sudagraphics Inc. A dance instructor, she has been a member of the Oldsmar Garden Club, the Leisure Services Board and the Cultural Arts Foundation. She wants to see more investment in youth programs, further beautify city streets and parks, plan a year-long bicentennial celebration and push to grow the industrial park.
Gabby McGee, 26, works in sales, marketing and information technology, and in her free time creates site proposals to recruit businesses to Oldsmar. She wants to work with council members to create a more pedestrian-friendly community and increase interactions between city officials and residents by using a city-funded "MindMixer" account — a "virtual city hall" website also used by Tampa.
In recent weeks, the candidates have been hosting meet-and-greets, attending council meetings and shaking hands at town events. In total, they have spent about $7,800 on the race.
McGee, the only candidate with formal endorsements, has garnered support from the Palm Harbor/Oldsmar Professional Firefighters, the Pinellas REALTOR Organization, the Fraternal Order of Police Pinellas Lodge 43 and the Fraternal Order of Police Clearwater Lodge 10.
Because only one seat is on the ballot, City Clerk Ann Stephan expects most votes this election to come in by mail.
"It has been a well-run campaign by all three candidates," Stephan said. "Very clean, very above board and very reflective of the community. Each has something unique to offer."
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155. Danielle Paquette can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4224.