Hillsborough County has cut hundreds of jobs and millions in spending to cope with the economic recession. The commission still faces many familiar issues, including managing further revenue declines, maintaining public infrastructure, attracting business and building a modern transportation system. It will require innovation and vision to meet these challenges.
John Dingfelder | District 1 (west, south county)
Democrat John Dingfelder and Republican Sandra Murman are veteran politicians whose competence and calm could get this commission back to serious business. They are in tune more than the campaigns suggest. But they differ on a major policy issue: Dingfelder supports the sales tax referendum for transit improvements; Murman does not. Overall, Dingfelder has a much better grasp of what residents expect from county government.
Dingfelder, 53, an attorney and Tampa native, had a long history of government service before winning election to the Tampa City Council in 2003. His years as an assistant county attorney, public defender, schoolteacher and member of local hospital and planning boards prepare him well for the range of policy decisions facing commissioners.
Dingfelder has been a strong environmental advocate, a key concern for this coastal district. And his years on the City Council give him a unique perspective on how the county can save tax money by consolidating some services with area governments.
Murman, 60, represented much of this area in the Florida House from 1996 to 2004. Her tireless community service for decades on behalf of children and others in need would enable her to help the county address social services, crime and substance abuse. But Dingfelder is better prepared to help steer the county and grow its economy.
For Hillsborough County Commission District 1, the Times recommends John Dingfelder.
Victor Crist | District 2 (north county)
Victor Crist has spent his political career as a state legislator, focusing primarily on broad criminal justice issues. But his most significant contribution at the local level has been his attention to the run-down neighborhoods near the University of South Florida.
Crist, 53, spent 10 years in the Florida Senate after serving eight years in the House. He has not done a lot of homework for this county seat. Still, Crist knows the area well, and as a commissioner he could continue his work to improve the economic and social fabric of the north Tampa suburbs.
Crist is energetic and would help elevate the county's economic development efforts. He recognizes the potential USF and south Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base have in creating jobs, high-tech partnerships and entirely new industrial ventures.
Steven Morris, 57, is an independent candidate and a community activist in northwest Hillsborough. He has solid ideas for consolidating some functions among area governments. But Crist has more depth, and he could raise the district's profile.
For Hillsborough County Commission District 2, the Times recommends Victor Crist.
Lesley "Les" Miller | District 3 (central Tampa)
Former state Sen. Lesley "Les" Miller, 59, won the Democratic primary and is on the general election ballot only because he faces token opposition from a write-in candidate. Miller is the only credible choice. But he will need to work hard to place the county's poorest district on the political radar and rebuild public trust in an office that the departing commissioner, Kevin White, damaged with his sleazy antics.
For Hillsborough County Commission District 3, the Times recommends Lesley "Les" Miller.
Linda Saul-Sena | District 5 (countywide)
Democrat Linda Saul-Sena offers the broadest vision for this countywide seat.
Saul-Sena, 59, a former county planner, has been a thoughtful advocate for neighborhoods, the Hillsborough River, tourism and redevelopment during five terms on the Tampa City Council. She understands that Hillsborough's financial problems stem from County Center's spending binge and its refusal to contain sprawl. She would draw on her deep ties at the city and with nonprofits to forge collaborative ventures with other governments and the private sector that could save taxpayers money. Saul-Sena also realizes that economic development means more than giving away the store. And she is open and accessible.
Republican Ken Hagan has served on the commission since 2002. Hagan, 43, has shown a responsible side in the past year on transportation and the environment. But it hardly makes up for a longer record of mismanaging growth. Jim Hosler, 58, an independent candidate, has a serious agenda. A longtime planner, he is an authoritative voice on job creation, budgeting and urban renewal.
Saul-Sena has a forward-looking agenda and the best ability to balance the competing needs of a diverse county. For Hillsborough County Commission District 5, the Times recommends Linda Saul-Sena.
Mark Sharpe | District 7 (countywide)
Republican incumbent Mark Sharpe stands far above his opponents.
Sharpe, 50, is the board's most influential voice on transit, job creation and budgeting. His vision for growing the county with high-tech jobs and a better transportation system will help Hillsborough's cities while protecting suburban lifestyles.
Neil Cosentino, a 73-year-old civic activist and retired Air Force pilot, was instrumental in local efforts to turn the Gandy Bridge into a pedestrian trail and to compete for the 2012 Olympics. But the independent candidate is better at throwing ideas against the wall than establishing priorities. There also is a write-in candidate.
For Hillsborough County Commission District 7, the Times recommends Mark Sharpe.