A vote for Margaret Harkey is, in effect, a vote for the city to hold another election, Mayor Art Levine said Friday. Harkey, who died a week ago Friday, nevertheless will be on the ballot during the March 13 elections, along with her sole opponent, community activist Linda Adkins.
And Levine and other city officials are drumming up support for Harkey, but not because they prefer a dead candidate to Adkins, he said.
"We're not campaigning for Margaret," the mayor said. "We're not trying to get Margaret elected."
What city officials want to do is use this election to set the stage for further action, he said.
"This is an effort to get a preponderance of votes on her behalf to give us the legal position to do something else," Levine said.
Should Harkey win, Levine said, then the city would have two options: appoint someone to fill Harkey's two-year term on the commission, or else hold another election.
And of the two, Levine said he prefers holding another election.
"Appointing somebody subverts the election process," he said.
But Adkins' campaign treasurer, David James, disagreed. If Harkey wins then Adkins should still get the seat, because she is the runner-up, he said.
Adkins said the whole situation has left her feeling like she has been backed into a corner. After Harkey died of a burst blood vessel in her brain last week, Adkins thought she had won the race by default. City officials told her to stop collecting campaign contributions, as befits a winner. She started winding down her campaign.
But on Thursday, City Attorney Rob Hoskins ruled that Harkey's name should be left on the ballot, and the March 13 election should proceed as if nothing had happened. Now Adkins must somehow mount a race against a dead opponent.
"I have two options," Adkins said Friday. "I can either drop out, or I can run to win."
Adkins is running, but with difficulty. She still isn't sure she can collect any more than the few hundred dollars she had taken in donations prior to Harkey's death, and no candidate can collect money after March 8.
Hoskins said Thursday she could collect money, but Adkins is waiting to get authorization in writing.
The lack of funds crimps her campaign almost as much as the oddness of running against a dead opponent.
"I will not put up signs," she said. "I won't stoop that low. But I can go door-to-door. That doesn't cost money."
However, time is short for a door-to-door campaign that would cover the city prior to next month's vote.
The confusion over how to handle the usual routines of the campaign season under such unusual circumstances has troubled more people than just Adkins.
On Monday, Adkins intends to appear with the candidates for the other two seats on the commission at the first political forum of the season, sponsored by the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce. She intends to talk about her campaign.
Will anyone speak for Harkey? Levine said Friday he expected someone to deliver a speech for Harkey, but organizer Howard Sachs wasn't sure.
"We've got a queer situation," Sachs said. "I have no plans to have anybody speak for Mrs. Harkey. But I'm not sure how we're going to handle it."
Earlier this week another commission member, Sal Cincotta, called for Adkins to simply withdraw from the race and let the city hold a new election. Otherwise, he said, the voters would be cheated of the chance to pick their commissioners. Levine and Commissioner Don Mahoney agreed with him.
But Adkins, a longtime critic of city government who lost her last race for a commission seat to Cincotta, refused to withdraw. She contended she had won by default and ought to get a seat on the commission after the election.
On Friday, she said she was determined to win that seat, although the opponent she will be campaigning against won't be Harkey.
"I'm going to fight the opponent I have, and that's the City Commission, the city attorney and the city manager," she said.