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Few hats tossed in Tarpon political ring

By Jan. 20, the field of candidates will be finalized for the March 16 city elections.

Two City Commission seats are on the line, those held by Karen Brayboy and George Bobotas.

But as of now, only two candidates are willing to say they will run.

Jim Archer, who formerly was a Tarpon Springs Rotary Club president, a Chamber of Commerce president and a major league baseball pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Athletics, announced weeks ago that he intends to run for Brayboy's seat.

Brayboy is being forced out by term limits.

Michael Koniarski, an East Lake High School graduate and a federal employee, said he also intends to run but has not decided whether he will run for Brayboy's or Bobotas' seat. This will be his first try at an elective office.

Archer and Koniarski are the only ones who have picked up candidate packets from the city. Candidates can declare their intention to run whenever they like, but to get their names on the ballot, they must file papers with the city clerk between Jan. 11 and Jan. 20.

City Clerk Kathy Alesafis, a veteran observer of city political races, said that she senses the silence so far may be motivated by an old piece of advice: Pick your battles.

Prospective candidates "might wait to see who else is running to see what seat they want to run for," Alesafis said.

The last election, in March 1998, shook up the established political order. Mayor Frank DiDonato and political newcomer Beverley Billiris replaced Mayor Anita Protos and Commissioner Cindy Domino, who left because of term limits. That disrupted a majority on the commission that usually voted with Protos.

The current commission often has made decisions by consensus rather than by a fight-to-the-death approach.

A newcomer who disagrees with the current way of doing things and who wins Brayboy's seat would have to face down at least three commissioners and find himself or herself on the losing end of many votes.

Although Bobotas is eligible for another term, he declined to say Thursday whether he will seek re-election.

"I'm planning to make an announcement next week, probably on Friday," Bobotas said. His announcement might be the first domino that sets off a chain reaction of announcements, as conventional campaign wisdom holds that running for an empty seat is much easier than unseating an incumbent.

Although any other political hopefuls may be peering around the stage curtain from the wings, Archer said he is comfortable with his decision to step into the spotlight early.

He said he has been extensively involved in social and civic groups during his 20 years in the city, but he is new to politics and he wanted plenty of time to hear what the voters have to say.

"I (declared early) to get out and talk to some people and get out in the public and get some ideas," he said.

DiDonato, who was organizing his own campaign a year ago, said a campaign is a harrowing and tiring experience, one he is glad he does not have to repeat this year.

DiDonato agreed with Alesafis' assessment of the small number of declarations.

"I think there's a timing factor involved, certainly," he said. "Before you even get started, you have to put together a platform and an organization of people to support you. You put your name out there, and then you just throw yourself into it until the election."