1. Archive

Final forum focuses on familiar fronts

Candidates faced off for their fourth and last forum Thursday night, re-visiting some of the territory they've covered before.

Mayor Bob Jackson again reminded those in the City Hall audience, and those watching on the city's cable-access channel, of Largo's success during his tenure.

"Don't take a chance for voting for a new mayor," Jackson said at the forum, sponsored by the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce. "Look at what we have done in the last six years for Largo. We have made tremendous progress."

But his opponent, Commissioner Pat Gerard emphasized Largo's need for a new, responsive leader.

"I haven't been around so long I think I have all of the answers. I'm going to ask for your answers," Gerard told the audience.

Gerard and other candidates also expressed mixed feelings over the city's aggressive annexation tactics.

"We have the reputation for being overaggressive, forcing people into the city. I don't think that's the way to go with a new resident or a new business," Gerard said.

Ernie Bach, who served on the commission in the late 1980s, also spoke of the need to revive the city's image stemming from annexation issues.

"I've heard other candidates talk about the bad reputation of the city and that bothers me, and we need to repair that now," Bach said.

But Gigi Arntzen and Jackson defended the city's annexation policy.

And Jackson said the city's reputation wasn't the commission's fault.

"That bad relationship is not created by elected officials. It's created by the staff."

Jackson and Gerard, who both said the city needs a business development specialist, also spoke about stimulating economic development.

But Gerard said one of the city's key priorities should be to change the way it interacts with merchants.

"We need a more customer-service orientation to businesses," she said.

Bach stressed his connections on the state and national level, while his opponent, Rodney J. Woods, spoke of his commitment close to home.

Spending and taxes were also a hot topic.

Arntzen said she would balance spending with the community's needs.

"Being able to meet the needs of our community, but understanding the financial limitations of our residents will be a priority to me," Arntzen said.

And her opponent, incumbent Jean Halvorsen, reminded the listeners that she had voted to lower the tax rate.

Woods and Gerard told the audience of the endorsements they had received from unions representing Largo police, firefighters and other employees.

But Jackson, who voted for a tax rollback and did not receive those endorsements, had a warning for voters.

"I have a caution to the residents of Largo. Watch out for your taxes," Jackson said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at


In Largo's city election March 7, incumbent Mayor Bob Jackson is challenging Commissioner Pat Gerard. Rodney Woods and Ernie Bach are competing for Gerard's Seat 3. And incumbent Jean Halvorsen is running against Gigi Arntzen for Seat 4. Also on the ballot are nine referendums on amendments to the city charter. You can study those questions in the election section of the city's Web site at The Thursday night candidate forum will be televised several times on the city's cable access channel, LTV 15. Broadcast times are listed on Largo's Web site. The forum can also be viewed on the Web site's election section.

Up next:Correction