CLEARWATER — The top two candidates named by City Council members to fill a vacant seat through March 2020 both have experience as elected officials but bring distinct records to the table.
The council is expected to appoint a candidate on Thursday to finish the last 15 months of Doreen Caudell's term following her Nov. 30 resignation. From almost two dozen who expressed interest in running, former council members Carlen Petersen and Jay Polglaze emerged as the only two named by multiple council members.
Polglaze, who worked 30 years for the United States Postal Service before retiring, walked onto the council in 2012 when no other candidate qualified to run for Seat 3. He was voted out of office in 2016 after one term when political newcomer Bob Cundiff won the seat with 53 percent of the vote.
Polglaze, 61, has served since 2016 as executive director of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, whose leaders initiated the failed referendum this year that would have eliminated the city manager form of government and given daily authority to the mayor. Polglaze said if he were appointed, he would not resurrect the strong mayor initiative on the dais.
While in office, Polglaze helped lead the effort to recruit a microbrewery to downtown - a goal he said continues through his work with the Partnership.
While leading the Partnership, Polglaze said he has kept interest downtown by launching a beer festival entering its third year and working to keep corporate players engaged in the city's Imagine Clearwater waterfront revitalization plan.
"The next 15 months are going to be extremely important based on what the city is currently working on," Polglaze said. "Many of the things they are working on now related to the renaissance and redevelopment of downtown were things that started about six years ago when I was on council."
Petersen, 64, was elected in 2004 when she prevailed over Pinellas County Schools administrator Don Casey with 60 percent of the vote. She did not face a challenger for re-election in 2007 and left office in 2010 due to term limits.
Petersen was an attorney for the city of Chicago before moving to Clearwater in 1985. She spent decades working on various social service causes, including serving on the national board of the YWCA and as one of the founding members of what is now the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board.
While in office, Petersen oversaw some of the city's major revitalization efforts including the $30 million Beach Walk project, a public walkway and gathering space along Clearwater Beach credited with helping bring resorts and major hotels to the beach.
"I have a passion for the community," Petersen said."I was raised and tried to raise my children in the mode you give back to the community that gives to you."
Both Petersen and Polglaze said, if appointed, they would not run for the seat in March 2020.
But there is no clear consensus for either so far. Mayor George Cretekos named Petersen as his top choice based on of her experience and the fact she would bring gender diversity to a council of four men. Cretekos said "it's a struggle" to consider Polglaze for an appointment after he was voted out of office by residents.
"(Petersen) is a calming influence, she has the background, she's an attorney, she's a female, she lives in a different part of the community, she hasn't lost an election and I think she has support from everybody: she's not associated with one particular group or another," Cretekos said.
Council member David Allbritton said he was considering Petersen and Polglaze but that Polglaze was his top choice because of his years of work in downtown revitalization efforts. Allbritton said the next 15 months will be critical for making progress on the $50 million Imagine Clearwater project, still in design, and that Polglaze could facilitate momentum.
Council member Hoyt Hamilton named Petersen, Polglaze and Clearwater activist Howard Warshauer, 74, who served as a West Palm Beach city commissioner from 1992 to 1999. Hamilton said he is vacillating between the three and that "it's going to be fluid until Thursday night."
Council member Bob Cundiff declined to name his top choice from the two dozen candidates who've expressed interest. But he said he could see himself voting for both Petersen or Polglaze if there is consensus for one.
"The question I have to ask is who can get three votes," Cundiff said.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.