Call it the year of the accidental candidate in New Port Richey. ¶ Former City Council members Bob Langford and Tom Finn both decided at the last minute to seek the office of mayor in the April 8 election. Both also said they wouldn't have run if they had known about the other's candidacy.
That makes the choice for New Port Richey mayor an easy one — attorney Scott McPherson, who is making his first run for elected office and already is demonstrating a commitment to doing the job properly. Others talk about trying to jump-start the stalled Main Street Landings project. McPherson arrives for an interview with the contract in hand, having already searched for items that can be renegotiated between the city and private developer.
McPherson has deep roots in the community and offers a compelling life story that shows hard work and a determination to achieve a stated goal. The son of Jack McPherson, a prominent lawyer and onetime city attorney, the younger McPherson dropped out of high school, married, started a family and worked as a janitor at Community Hospital of New Port Richey in the early 1980s. Realizing there was no future in scrubbing toilets, he obtained his high school equivalency, enrolled in Pasco-Hernando Community College and became a paramedic/firefighter for Pasco County Fire/Rescue. He eventually graduated from St. Petersburg Junior College, the University of South Florida and law school before beginning his legal career 13 years ago.
He sits on the city's Land Development Review Board, chairs the county EMS Advisory Board and is active in New Port Richey Rotary Club and West Pasco Chamber of Commerce. Though both Finn and Langford have council experience, neither possesses McPherson's leadership skills.
Finn, a strong advocate for citywide redevelopment, championed improved recreation during his tenure, and the city now has a skate park for its children and a refurbished $14-million recreation center. However, Finn's peculiarities (a public dispute with Council member Ginny Miller; walking out of a meeting and threatening to resign when he didn't get his way; calling needy people "freeloaders'' and stating publicly that someone had poisoned him with the hepatitis virus) limited his effectiveness.
Langford, who resigned two years ago mid-term to run unsuccessfully for mayor, is an audio engineer and music publisher/producer with an intriguing idea. He wants to capitalize on the city's arts and culture by trying to persuade the state to create a Florida Music Hall of Fame in New Port Richey. It is a substantial endeavor, but one Langford does not need to be in elected office to pursue.
The Times recommends Scott McPherson for New Port Richey mayor.
Hanff best for council
Three people are running for a vacant, three-year council seat:
Susan Clark, a real estate agent, served one term on council ending in 2003 and is seeking a return to elected office. She has no platform and is hard-pressed to offer a reason for her candidacy beyond availability and desire to become involved again in the community. That is understandable, but she can do so by seeking a position on one of the city's volunteer boards. It would let her refresh her familiarity with City Hall and perhaps better prepare her for a future council run.
Glenn Hanff, a consultant who helps physicians improve business efficiency in their practices, grew up in Gulf Harbors and moved to the city two years ago, buying a house on Illinois Avenue. He notes the quality-of-life attributes and challenges for downtown residents: Most everything is within walking distance unless you need to go to the grocery or pharmacy.
He possesses youthful exuberance and an eagerness to learn, having already met with department heads to gain a better understanding of the city's workings. He is not opposed to sharing services with Pasco County, something that is considered verboten among many within the city. It shouldn't be. Avoiding duplication of services is imperative as the financial constraints from Amendment 1 become reality. His high intellect, energy and communication skills would be welcome assets on the council.
Downtown Main Street's executive director Judy DeBella Thomas, wife of former Council member Ted Thomas, is seeking to boost downtown from the council dais. Her experience in promoting New Port Richey and her knowledge of the city and its downtown are positive attributes. But we are concerned by the potential for conflicting interests if she were to assume membership on the panel that votes on an annual $45,000 appropriation for her employer. Thomas would be unable to vote on that funding, which, in the past, has been a topic of controversy among council members. It is particularly troubling now that both Thomas and her husband are on the Main Street payroll.
We also are uncomfortable with her support for the city to turn the soon-to-be-vacated First Baptist Church property into a performing arts center or library annex. The city acquired the site fronting Orange Lake to control its development by the private sector. It is an inopportune time to invest in yet another capital expense that would return no property tax revenue to the city.
Thomas has significant strengths, but so does Hanff who is not tethered to a potential conflict. Glenn Hanff is the preferable candidate for New Port Richey Council.
Candidates not recommended by the Times have the opportunity to respond to this editorial. Responses of no longer than 250 words can be sent to the attention of Pasco Editor of Editorials C.T. Bowen at 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668; via e-mail to Bowen@sptimes.com or via fax to 727-869-6233. Responses must be received by 5 p.m. Tuesday.