Saturday, April 21, 2018
Opinion

John Romano: For Pinellas sheriff, a choice 20 years in the making

For years, the election of a sheriff in Pinellas County was largely ceremonial.

The frontrunner pretended to be concerned, the challengers pretended to be viable and the rest of us pretended to approach the election with some degree of earnestness.

Or have you forgotten the time when an unemployed disc jockey with no law enforcement experience was a major party candidate? Or that time when a psychologist ran against a two-term incumbent? Or that freedom-affirming election when the best the Democrats could offer was a blank line on the ballot?

We have seen retired cops from up North, security guards from down the road and a candidate who had once ranked 123rd out of 126 applicants in the Sheriff's Office when applying for a promotion to sergeant.

All of which has led to 20 years of landslides, blowouts and hey-wasn't-there-an-election-today results.

Presumably, that ends this morning.

For the first time since incumbent Gerry Coleman was defeated in the 1988 Republican primary, there is reason to give serious thought to a sheriff's election in Pinellas County.

Maybe you stand behind current Sheriff Bob Gual­tieri, or maybe you believe in former Sheriff Everett Rice. Either way, you have to admit the other guy brings a compelling narrative to the party.

Rice was a four-term sheriff who restored respect and dignity to the department after a rash of scandals during Coleman's tenure in the 1980s.

Gualtieri navigated the office through severe budget cuts as chief deputy before being appointed by the governor as Jim Coats' successor.

Of course, you wouldn't know this based on billboards, commercials and mailers. Neither candidate has been very magnanimous when it comes to the accomplishments of the other.

And neither has paid much attention to Democrat Scott Swope, who will face the winner on Nov. 6.

Rice has questioned Gual­tieri's ability to be a leader and says morale is low among the rank and file. Gualtieri suggests Rice is out of touch with today's economic realities and has pandered to special-interest groups.

My suggestion?

Do not let either man characterize the other.

They have spent enough time in the spotlight that their own words and decisions should be enough to either earn or lose your vote, depending on your point of view.

That's the beauty of a competitive field. It's an affirmative choice rather than a negative vote. You can actually choose the person you like best, as opposed to settling for the only candidate with an appropriate resume.

So forget what Rice says about Gualtieri. And forget what Gualtieri says about Rice. Instead, consider each man on his own merits.

Rice served to mostly strong reviews as sheriff from 1988 to 2004. That's important to remember. He also served at a time when the sheriff's budget may have grown beyond its needs. That's important, too.

Gualtieri earned praise for downsizing the budget as Coats' top deputy from 2008 to 2011. But if Gual­tieri gets credit for the budget, he should also share the blame for the loose-cannon attitudes of some of the detectives in the narcotics division in recent years.

Two qualified candidates. Two legit choices.

One decision for you.

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