CLEARWATER — This city had about 72,000 registered voters during its 2018 City Council elections. About 12,000 made their voices heard.
Silver Bow County, Montana had about 23,000 registered voters eligible to participate in a 2018 county judicial race. More than 15,300 cast a ballot.
Clearwater is not known for its active local political scene.
That's why the number of residents who are planning a 2020 run at one of the three open City Council seats is nothing short of remarkable. Particularly so for an elections season that can't legally begin in earnest until September.
No fewer than nine candidates have already announced intentions to run for election or re-election to the five-person council. Former mayor Frank Hibbard will seek his former office after eight years on the sidelines. Council member Bob Cundiff is running for re-election. Prominent scientology critic Mark Bunker also wants a seat.
Political positioning is a factor at this early stage. Many of the candidates, Bunker included, say they have not decided which seat they're running for: the mayor's seat, Cundiff's Seat 3 or the soon-to-be open Seat 2 currently held by Jay Polglaze.
Six of those nine confirmed their intentions to run to the Times for the first time this week. Here's a quick rundown of those candidates in the March election, who differ widely in age, background and in the policy visions they offer for Pinellas County's second largest city.
Teixeira, 49, would be new to the council. But she already holds elected office in Clearwater as a member of the Downtown Development Board. She's also the president of the Downtown Merchants Association.
In both of those capacities, Teixeira has been a critic of the pace of the city's $64 million renovation of the downtown waterfront, Imagine Clearwater.
"I have this relentless passion for Clearwater. I think it's an underdog," said Teixeira, the owner of the downtown wine bar Pour Yours. "I don't think we're using all of our assets and our talents."
Teixeira said she would bring her experience as a small business owner to the council as it decides how to revive the city's moribund downtown. She'll also bring the perspective of a female to the council, which is currently comprised solely of white men.
The mother of two hails originally from Montreal. She speaks four languages: Portuguese, English, French and Italian. She's pointedly noted that she's decided which seat she's running for: Seat 2.
"I love a challenge," Teixeira said. "Just tell me I can't do something and I'll do it even more."
Elias, 81, has been in Clearwater for 44 years. In that time, he's amassed a number civic titles: chair of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce; board member of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and president of Leadership Pinellas to name a few.
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In 2018, Elias backed the failed referendum to change Clearwater's government to a strong mayor system. He said he's running in 2020 because he often sees a lack of initiative on the city's part. He also sees frequent breakdowns in communication between Clearwater's various neighborhoods and its government.
"I think there's a huge disconnect between downtown Clearwater and our neighborhoods," Elias said.
In particular, Elias said, one major concern of the neighborhoods isn't being adequately addressed: code enforcement.
Elias runs an insurance brokerage firm in town and has two adult sons. He said he's not yet sure which seat he will seek.
"It's finally time for me to step up and make a difference," Elias said.
Beckman, 55, wants to run to help the city fix two major issues, among others. One, she doesn't feel Clearwater's citizens believe their government hears their concerns. Two, she doesn't think the city is as interested as it could be in environmental sustainability.
The retired schoolteacher and mother of three is currently traveling the city and meeting with residents, posting updates all the while to her Facebook page. She believes the current council is too focused on downtown at the expense of other areas in the city.
"(I'd be) just one of five on the council but I can certainly be the voice of many," Beckman said.
Beckman came to Clearwater in 2016 from Lindenhurst, Illinois. During her time in Clearwater, she's become an active volunteer, working as a guardian ad litem; with Habitat for Humanity and with the Sierra Club, among other groups.
Beckman said she hasn't chosen a seat to run for yet.
Rector, 55, a lawyer, is running to make Clearwater a more visionary, proactive city.
"Clearwater should be competing not just nationally but internationally," the father of one said.
The city can at times become a victim of its own success, Rector said. On the council, Rector will move to diversify Clearwater's economy, which he said is too centered around leisure and tourism.
Rector has worked in Clearwater as an attorney with a sports facilities management and advisory company since 2015. He moved to the city from Palm Harbor in 2017.
Rector's record of civic service includes stints with both the Clearwater Regional Chamber and Leadership Pinellas. In 2003, he also served as the president of Junior Chamber International, a worldwide organization with some 200,000 members.
"Through that, I got to see how communities work throughout the world," Rector said.
Rector said he has not decided which seat he's running for.
Professionally, Nelson, 45, says she's done a little bit of this and a little bit of that. She worked in retail, hospitality, accounting and as a massage therapist. She's currently working to become a certified radiologic technologist.
Nelson, a mother of four, has lived in Clearwater since 1979. In all that time, she's seen the city go in a direction she doesn't like.
"My slogan is 'Make Clearwater Cool Again,'" Nelson said.
Nelson, who's deeply skeptical of the Church of Scientology, said longtime residents like herself have lost trust in Clearwater's government. On the council, she say she'd work to re-establish that trust.
Nelson is running for Seat 3, currently held by Cundiff — Nelson's former professor at St. Petersburg College.
Small business owner Mannino, 41, wants a seat on the council because he says he has dedicated himself to a life of service.
The former professional soccer player and father of one was born and raised in Clearwater. He has a master's degree in public administration from Columbia Southern University, and has sat on numerous civic boards, including a stint as the chair of the Clearwater Charter Review Committee.
"We live simple," Mannino said of himself and his wife, Suzanne, with whom he runs his business, Xanadu Race Management. "We don't care about things and stuff. We care about people and being servants"
Mannino said as a city council member, his work would revolve around ''protecting, promoting and preserving" the city. In particular, he wants to maintain Clearwater's high quality of life; promote environmentally and socially responsible change and preserve the city's natural beauty.
Mannino is running for the open Seat 2. He said he welcomes the competition from the already crowded field.
"Competitive ideas are what drive things forward," Mannino said.
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Contact Kirby Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.