Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Opinion

Steinle: Dunedin left with only mayoral race

One wouldn't normally think of Dunedin residents as apathetic.

They turn out in a big way for community events. They serve on dozens of boards and committees the city created to give residents a role in city decision making. Ask them how they like living in Dunedin, and they tend to gush.

So it's tough to figure out why only three people in the population of around 36,000 wanted to run for three seats on the City Commission. Or why residents let those three walk into office without a challenge, without even being vetted by voters, and create a new majority on the five-member City Commission.

The city election is Nov. 4, but with three seats already filled, only one contest remains: the race for mayor.

Dunedin is experiencing atypical turnover this year. Its commissioners generally serve for years and seldom leave en masse.

But this year, Mayor Dave Eggers is running for the County Commission. Commissioners Julie Ward Bujalski and Julie Scales are vying for mayor; the loser will have to leave the board. And Commissioner Ron Barnette decided to retire.

Lots of folks with a deep interest in their community could have taken advantage of this incumbent-free opportunity to run for one of the three commission seats. Instead, only three people filed, each for a different seat: Bruce Livingston, a former dental equipment manufacturer and consultant making his first run; Deborah Kynes, a community volunteer who was a commissioner from 1999 until she lost a run for mayor in 2009; and John Tornga, a retired executive who ran unsuccessfully in 2009.

All three are well known around town, and they raised a lot of campaign cash before the qualifying period ended June 16 and no one opposed them.

It is interesting to flip through the campaign contribution reports candidates file each month. Patterns emerge.

As of the end of May, the most recent report available, the leading money raisers this campaign season were mayoral candidate Scales with $18,935 and commission candidates Livingston with $18,101 and Kynes with $17,973.

Interestingly, many of the same contributors show up on those three lists. All three have heavy support from the local arts community, particularly people associated with the Dunedin Fine Art Center, where Kynes' husband, Allen, is on the board of directors and Kynes and Scales on its advisory board. Kynes also has contributions from County Commissioners Susan Latvala and Janet Long.

In the mayor's race, Scales was close to doubling Bujalski's $10,355 at the end of May. The contribution reports of the two mayoral candidates, who regularly clash on the commission, are a study in contrasts.

Scales' report lists a lot of well-known Dunedin residents as donors: art lovers, retired entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, politicians. Scales, a commissioner since 2003, is a former staff attorney for Pinellas County.

Bujalski, a commissioner since 2006, has fewer contributors who are prominent and more contributions from small businesses such as a hair salon, a plumbing contractor and local manufacturers. Like some of her contributors, Bujalski didn't have a privileged upbringing. Are the stark differences in the two candidates' donor lists about class — working class versus upper class? Is this retribution by the arts community for Bujalski's 2010 vote to cut the city's contribution to the Fine Art Center during the economic downturn? Or is it about the regularly displayed personality and political differences between the two?

Dunedin may have only one race left for the voters, but it has some fascinating undercurrents.

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