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Safety Harbor races emphasize rapid change

Redevelopment and the candidates' own life experience are recurring themes in the three races for the Safety Harbor City Commission.

When voters go to the polls on March 14, they'll choose from two incumbents and four newcomers to city politics. There's a lawyer, a civic activist, a college instructor, a financial adviser, a retired law enforcement officer and an insurance company claims manager.

But all say they're motivated by a desire to serve and a concern for a fast-growing city facing hard choices about what to allow and what to preserve.

Seat 1:

Asyn vs. Steingold

Andy Steingold's first year as a city commissioner wasn't easy, especially as he fought to get a copy of the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce's financial records before agreeing to give them funds from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

Although he may have made some enemies at the chamber, he made some friends in the the city's neighborhoods.

"I think I've surprised myself," he said. "Everything I've set out to do I've done."

He formed the Neighborhood Advisory Council to give citizens a voice on city issues, got a traffic light for the Briar Creek 55-and-over community, had the city take over and clean up an abandoned pond, increased neighborhood beautification grants from $2,500 to $5,000 and spearheaded a partnership with Oldsmar to clean up Old Tampa and link the cities with the trail system.

He also kept his word to maintain low density zoning and height restrictions.

Ted Asyn (pronounced A-SEEN) just couldn't stand the fighting among city commissioners he saw on Channel 15 every month.

And when Asyn saw Steingold question Cyndi O'Donnell, the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce's chief executive officer and president about the organization's financial report, he became angry and joined the race to defeat him.

Asyn is friends with O'Donnell and has volunteered at chamber events.

"Steingold (and city Commissioner) Kara Bauer are arrogant and are bullies," Asyn said. "They bring negativity to the city. I would bring compromise, bring resolutions, not be there to object to everything."

Asyn has never worked on a political campaign or run for office. If elected in his first bid, he said he would support Mayor Pam Corbino's push for an internal audit of all city departments.

He also said redevelopment on Main Street is the city's most important issue.

"You cannot stop progress," Asyn said. "But there has to be a balance between high-rise buildings and (residential homes)."

Seat 2:

Earle vs. Russell

When Kathleen Earle returned to town after spending a few years teaching at the University of Maryland, she got the shock of her life.

A large multiuse complex called Harbour Pointe was being built on the corner of Main Street and Bayshore Boulevard.

"I was appalled," Earle said.

She had grown up in the city and had always loved its small-town ambience. Now it was being ruined by developers, she said.

"The people who live in the downtown area are calling Harbour Pointe "the tunnel' because it creates a huge shadow" over the surrounding area, Earle said. "It blocks the view of the water and the breezes."

So, urged by friends, she joined the City Commission race to help control density and building heights. She is running for Commission Seat 2, which opened when Vice Mayor Keith Zayac said he wouldn't seek re-election.

To make residents aware of all changes to their city, she wants Planning and Zoning and Code Enforcement board meetings televised. Government should be transparent, Earle said.

"People are getting angrier and angrier about growth," she said.

Earle's opponent, Harry Russell, has been to war, so he said he's ready to do battle on the City Commission if he has to.

The former Green Beret said Safety Harbor "is really going to be a target" for developers, so any projects on the table need careful consideration.

"Buildings should be no more than three stories," Russell said. "I wouldn't want Main Street to become a canyon. But a taller building off the main route would not be objectionable. If the public didn't object, then I wouldn't fight it."

He said he "is the voice of experience," having been a Georgia state trooper, a captain in the Army and chief of enforcement for the Georgia Department of Transportation, where he "designed truck-weighing scales."

He was also director of the Georgia Alcohol and Tobacco tax division for two years and director of investigation for the Georgia Secretary of State for a year among other jobs.

Last week, he also said he "worked for the FBI for a while in Washington," though he later told the St. Petersburg Times he wasn't an agent, but "a clerk."

As for redevelopment, he would start with Main Street.

"I would like to see a downtown area that is welcoming and inviting, and keep a close watch on traffic," Russell said. "We need to find two or three central places (to put new businesses) and the rest of the shops and restaurants will develop around these central places."

Seat 3:

McCormick vs. Nickeson

Raised by a single mother on public assistance in Fayetteville, N.C., James McCormick said he has worked hard for everything he has in life.

No one paid his way through college. He worked his way through pouring concrete and laying brick. He said he learned his work ethic from his grandfather, and that he'll bring that ethic to the City Commission.

"I believe my life has prepared me for this," McCormick said. "Safety Harbor is at a crossroads. We need to tell the developers what we want here, not the other way around."

Like his fellow candidates, he said redevelopment is the most important issue the city faces, that over the next three years, "building will accelerate," and the commission needs members experienced in "many areas to ensure that the community develops in a manner true to the residents' vision."

He said he'll put his skills as a financial adviser to good use on the commission.

"We as city officials must make certain that all resources of the city are being used efficiently," McCormick said.

McCormick, the least experienced candidate, is up against Nadine Nickeson, the most experienced candidate on the ballot.

In her nine years on the commission, she has voted for new parks, the Gazebo and the library expansion.

During last week's forum, she said the commission has never let developers run amok and that they have turned down several projects to make sure the city retains its small-town feel.

She has supported crime watch programs, more street lights and is working on a community emergency response team to make sure Safety Harbor is prepared should it suffer a direct hit by a hurricane.

THE JOB

Safety Harbor City Commissioners serve three-year terms. There are no term limits. The part-time position pays $4,000 per year.

The election is March 14.

SEAT 1

TED ASYN

AGE: 45

POSITION: Claims manager for an auto insurance company.

BACKGROUND: Asyn was born and raised in the Panama Canal Zone. After high school, he moved to the United States and graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor of science degree. In 1987, he earned a master's degree in business administration from Nova University. He has volunteered for a number of Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce events. He, his wife, Ligia, and their 11-year-old son have lived in Safety Harbor for five years.

ANDY STEINGOLD

AGE: 45

POSITION: Personal injury attorney and partner in a Tampa law firm.

BACKGROUND: Steingold served on the board of his homeowners association and the board of directors for the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History. He was a candidate for state House and Hillsborough County judge in the early 1990s. He lives with his wife, Maryanne, and three children.

SEAT 2

KATHLEEN EARLE

AGE: 41

POSITION: Earle is on hiatus from her job as a women's studies and political theory instructor at the University of South Florida.

BACKGROUND: Earle has lived in Safety Harbor since she was 5. She earned dual bachelor of arts degrees in English and women's studies in 1998 and a master of arts from the University of South Florida in 2001. She taught at USF and the University of Maryland for eight years and left USF in December to spend more time with her mother, who is ill. Earle is also a former assistant editor of a philosophy journal and a co-editor of two books that will be released this year by publisher Rowman and Littlefield. She is single.

HARRY RUSSELL

AGE: 67

POSITION: Captain of the charter boat Tom Cat II.

BACKGROUND: Russell has lived in the city for five years. He was born and raised in Calhoun County, Ga., and has worked as a Georgia State Patrol trooper and chief of enforcement in the Georgia Department of Transportation. He also worked for and owned several security businesses. But he spent most of his career in the Navy and the Army, including three tours in Vietnam. He was a decorated Green Beret in Special Forces working on missions that included long-range reconnaissance and received 16 awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He has done volunteer work for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the Boy Scouts and was the Safety Harbor Rotary Club's Non-Rotarian of the Year in 2004. Retired since 1985, he lives with Jean, an interior designer, his wife of 13 years.

SEAT 3

JAMES T.

McCORMICK JR.

AGE: 30.

POSITION: Financial adviser for Morgan Stanley.

BACKGROUND: Born in Fayetteville, N.C., McCormick attended Wake Forest University and graduated from Webber International University in Babson Park with an associate's degree in finance and a bachelor of science degree in accounting in 1998. He is a trustee of the Safety Harbor firefighters pension plan and a member of the Pinellas Education Foundation's Doorways committee. He is also a member of the Rotary International Scholars Seminar Committee, southeast zone, and a member of the Rotary Club of Clearwater. He served on its board of directors from 2003 to 2005 and is chairman of the club's international

education committee and the district's ambassadorial scholar selection committee. He and his wife, Nicole, moved to the city four years ago. They have one child, 2, and expect a second child soon.

NADINE NICKESON

AGE: 55.

POSITION: A self-described "volunteer professional."

BACKGROUND: Nickeson has been a city commissioner since 1997. She is also on the steering committee of the Pinellas County Redevelopment Task Force, a member of the Pinellas Assembly, and past chairwoman of the Pinellas Planning Council. She holds a bachelor of science degree in microbiology from the University of Houston and a master's in public health.

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