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Election stirs Safety Harbor meeting

Linda Adkins said Monday that she would drop out of her City Commission race against dead incumbent Margaret Harkey if Mayor Art Levine and Commissioner Sal Cincotta would resign and face the voters in a special election. Cincotta and Levine said no, and Levine condemned Adkins' proposal as "showboating at its worst."

Levine also said the proposal "smacks of anarchy" because he and Cincotta are the only members of the commission whose terms don't expire this year.

Harkey died Feb. 9. Last week Cincotta asked Adkins to drop out of the March 13 race so the city could call a special election. After she refused, City Attorney Rob Hoskins recommended the commission leave Harkey's name on the ballot and let the voters choose.

Adkins made her suggestion at Monday's commission meeting, the first since Harkey's death. At Harkey's place at the commission table sat a vase with a single pink rose. Hoskins, who opened the meeting with prayer, called for a moment of silence.

Harkey's name came up often once the meeting started. First Adkins made her proposal, noting that Harkey "would have enjoyed the campaign battle but she would never have wanted this mess."

Leaving Harkey's name on the ballot "has made the city a laughingstock," Adkins said.

In addition to calling for Levine and Cincotta to resign, she said the commission also should put City Manager John Downes' employment to the test by asking voters in a referendum whether to keep him on.

When she was done, a parade of Safety Harbor residents alternately castigated the commission for leaving Harkey's name on the ballot and condemned Adkins for declaring herself the winner by default after Harkey died. Mary Pruss said that when Harkey died, Adkins won nothing, but that Pruss lost something. "I lost my right to vote," she said, asking for a special election.

But Lester "Gabby" Kinnison said the city couldn't let Harkey run for office in Safety Harbor now because she is no longer a legal resident of the city.

Adkins' campaign treasurer, David James, told the commission that many residents thought some city officials had violated the Sunshine Law by meeting in closed session to plot a way to keep Adkins out of office.

Levine told him to take any evidence to the sheriff.

Harkey's son-in-law, Steve Hair, read the commission a letter from Harkey's husband, Jerry, who said Harkey "would want Safety Harbor to be united in harmony," and not split by strife.

"Please allow Margaret to rest in peace," the letter said, asking for a quick resolution to the controversy.

Hair added a few comments of his own. He noted that several people on both sides had mentioned "sensitivity" about Harkey's death.

"Talk is cheap," he said. "I haven't seen any examples of sensitivity" from either side.

Monday's commission meeting wasn't the only place where Harkey's candidacy was the topic of conversation. The first commission candidates' forum, sponsored by the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce, featured a speech by Adkins.

But at the start of the meeting, organizer Howard Sachs announced, "Margaret Harkey won't be here today." The forum, he said, was for candidates who would "speak in their own behalf."

The one time someone tried to ask Adkins a question about running against Harkey, Sachs intervened and said that wasn't something any of the candidates could resolve.