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Race for mayor's seat a lonely one so far

It's still early, but so far the mayor's race seems more like a glue trap.

No one wants to get close, or they might get stuck.

With less than six months until the city election, only council member Frank Hibbard has said he wants to replace term-limited Mayor Brian Aungst. And Hibbard announced 17 months ago.

Since then, there's been a lot of buzz, but little bite.

Early on, former council member Ed Hooper and Jerry Figurski, an attorney and ex-Mr. Countryside, showed interest. Other council members wouldn't rule out a run. In each case, nothing materialized.

Recently, the fervor swelled around council member Hoyt Hamilton.

Hamilton had picked up papers at City Hall to run for re-election earlier this month. Along with his name and address, Hamilton marked that he was seeking a council seat, not the mayor's office.

But this week, Hamilton crossed out that designation and instead left the prompt blank. It only furthered speculation.

Hamilton said Friday the deletion shouldn't be seen as a change of heart. He's running for council, not mayor.

"I scratched that out because until I officially create the bank accounts, I can't say I'm running for that seat," Hamilton said. "I'll be running for re-election for the seat I'm in. I'm not going to take Frank on right now.

"It's never been part of my thought process."

Former council member Ed Hart said he hasn't ruled out running against Hibbard, the man who beat him in a rancorous 2002 council race.

But even Hart said he'd rather have someone else step into the fray.

"I don't want to put my family through some of the negative stuff that happened last time," said Hart, who was criticized as being out of touch in the 2002 election. "If there's some indication it would be a positive race, I would consider running. But's it's not high on my priority list."

Both Hamilton and Hart said residents have asked them to run.

"I don't think I've ever seen a community quite as turned off to the process as they are right now," Hart said. "People want more representation. They want a voice."

Another talked-about prospective candidate, former Mayor Rita Garvey, did not return a message left Friday.

Hibbard, who beat Hart for a council seat in 2002, said he has not campaigned for mayor, though he announced his plans in early 2003.

He said he fully expects to have an opponent by the time candidate qualifying ends in December.

"I plan ahead in my personal life. I plan ahead in my professional life. I plan ahead for this," said Hibbard, who officially kicks off his campaign Oct. 4. "I'm going to organize my campaign and my supporters, but I'm not going to be campaigning. My focus is going to be the council."

Hibbard is the only announced candidate to replace Aungst, who after two terms in office cannot run a third time because of term limits. Aungst will resign in January after a failed attempt to become Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court.

The City Council could then appoint an interim mayor until voters make their own choice in the March 8 city election.

Along with the mayor's chair, council seats held now by Hibbard and Hamilton will be up for grabs.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 445-4160 or asharockmansptimes.com.

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