CLEARWATER ― It’s not always easy for Clearwater to field a full slate of City Council candidates.
That won’t be a problem during the March 2020 elections. No fewer than 13 candidates have qualified for three city races. Four are running for the open mayor’s Seat 1 occupied by the termed-out George Cretekos; five vie for the open Seat 2 currently held by Jay Polglaze and another four are running for Seat 3, which is currently held by Bob Cundiff. (The incumbent Cundiff is running for re-election.)
The Nov. 15 deadline to qualify for the races has officially come and gone, so let’s survey the field. Reminder: In Clearwater, the mayor is just one seat in the five-person council. All five seats are at-large, or elected by the entire city. Three are up for grabs next year.
Seat 1 - Mayor
Elizabeth “Sea Turtle” Drayer. The Clearwater attorney is running to advocate for the interests of the loggerhead sea turtle species. She raised $20,000 during the first two official fundraising months of the campaign, all from herself.
Frank Hibbard. The former two-term mayor of Clearwater said he’s running because he believes he has has a proven track record of leadership. He’s reported about $91,500 in fundraising for his run so far ― tops in the field.
Bill Jonson. The former four-term city council member said he wants to be mayor so Clearwater residents can have a more responsive government. Jonson has reported about $13,700 in fundraising.
Morton Myers. A small business owner who has family ties to the Church of Scientology, Myers is running in part because he’s concerned about the direction of the $64 million Imagine Clearwater downtown redevelopment project. He’s loaned his campaign $2,100 so far.
Seat 2 - Open
Mark Bunker. A retiree who’s had a long and public history of criticizing the Church of Scientology, Bunker wants to bring that critical voice to the city council. He’s reported about $6,600 in fundraising.
Mike Mannino. The Clearwater native and small business owner has centered his campaign around ''protecting, promoting and preserving" the city. He’s reported about $8,500 in fundraising.
Bruce Rector. A lawyer and former president of Junior Chamber International, Rector is running to make Clearwater a more internationally competitive city. He’s reported about $8,300 in fundraising so far.
Eliseo Santana. A veteran of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Army, Santana wants to bring his eclectic skillset to elected office.
For more than three decades, the retired father of four and grandfather of 13 helped the sprawling law enforcement agency with its technology needs. After he retired, Santana got his Master of Business Administration degree from Schiller International University. In 2016, he ran for Pinellas County School Board.
Santana didn’t win that race, but he said in an interview that the same impulse that drove him to run then is driving him now.
“I want it because I want the future of our community to be solid and strong,” Santana said.
In particular, Santana said he wants to open the lines of communication between local government and various constituencies around the city ― including Hispanic voters like himself. As a member of the council, Santana said he’d work to make Clearwater more friendly to small businesses and to make Imagine Clearwater as successful as possible.
He’s raised about $2,100 for his run so far, records show.
Lina Teixeira. A multilingual small business owner who serves on a number of civic organizations, Teixeira is running to unlock Clearwater’s potential, she says. She’s pulled in $15,800 so far, records show.
Seat 3 - Bob Cundiff is the incumbent
Kathleen Beckman. The retired schoolteacher and active volunteer has made the environment one of her signature issues. She’s reported about $14,500 in contributions.
Bob Cundiff. The incumbent in the race for Seat 3 is running for re-election so he can build on what he says is a record of getting all corners of Clearwater involved in civic life. He’s reported about $3,900 in contributions.
Bud Elias. A onetime chair of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, Elias is running because he wants to see Clearwater government take more initiative. He’s reported about $23,150 in fundraising so far.
Scott Thomas. Even though he’s the youngest candidate in the field at just 29 years old, Thomas brings elected experience to the Seat 3 race. Before moving to Clearwater two years ago, the human resources manager served two terms on the Pottsville Area School Board in Pennsylvania, getting elected for the first time at just 19.
“Me being in the race probably brings the average age to about 60,” Thomas joked.
Some of the main issues Thomas is focusing on include making Clearwater more business friendly and bringing a renewed government focus to the Clearwater neighborhoods outside downtown.
Thomas said although the city has done a good job of keeping residents safe, it could be better about communicating with them. For instance, Thomas said he’s not sure Clearwater residents have been properly consulted throughout the Imagine Clearwater downtown redevelopment process.
“I think that more public input is always good,” Thomas said.
He’s reported about $3,600 in fundraising contributions.