CLEARWATER — Kathleen Beckman, a community activist and retired teacher, earned a dominant victory in Tuesday’s race for City Council’s Seat 3 against first-term incumbent Bob Cundiff and two other candidates.
Beckman garnered 49 percent of preliminary votes on a day clouded with expected low turnout due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to early Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections results. She got 11,212 votes out of the 22,942 cast in her race.
Beckman also broke the all-male makeup of the five-member City Council. On Tuesday former mayor Frank Hibbard won the race for mayor while Scientology critic Mark Bunker won Seat 2. The three join sitting members David Allbritton and Hoyt Hamilton.
Clearwater Election Results
She beat out three opponents despite late-campaign tactics by a Republican political committee that blanketed voters this month with misleading robocalls and mailers attempting to link her to the controversial Church of Scientology.
But Beckman, 56, has been telling her own story to voters with an aggressive ground campaign that began a year ago. Combined with volunteers, Beckman said she reached more than 14,000 doors by Election Day.
She focused her campaign on the environment, affordable housing and addressing the needs of neighborhoods. While knocking doors, she also registered citizens to vote.
“Nobody worked harder than me and knocked on more doors,” Beckman said Tuesday evening. “The advice I got from people that run national campaigns all the way down to City Council is if you knock on doors, you will win. Man, were they right.”
Cundiff, a St. Petersburg College communications professor running for a second term, garnered 17 percent of the early results. Bud Elias, owner of an insurance brokerage and longtime presence on local nonprofit boards, pulled in 22 percent of votes.
Scott Thomas, a human resources director, had 12 percent of unofficial votes.
This month, Elias’ campaign also sent mailers contrasting his endorsements from the police and fire unions with an endorsement Beckman received from an advocacy group founded by members of the Church of Scientology.
The group of Scientologists, Citizens for Social Reform, endorsed one candidate in each of the three contested council races. But the Republican committee only sent calls and mailers highlighting the group’s support of Beckman, a registered Democrat. Beckman is not a Scientologist and council races are nonpartisan.
Between 2017 and 2019, the church and companies tied to Scientology bought nearly 100 properties in the center of downtown. The effort has given the church indisputable control over the success of the city’s ongoing revitalization efforts.
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In its recommendation, Citizens for Social Reform noted Beckman’s response to a survey from the Tampa Bay Times, where she distinguished between downtown property owners who are Scientologists and the institution itself.
“We ran a positive campaign,” Beckman said. “It’s about residents, it’s about families, it’s about working people and it’s about quality of life for the people who work here.”
Cundiff on Tuesday experienced the same fate he inflicted upon his opponent in 2016. Cundiff, then a first-time office seeker, ousted first-term council member Jay Polglaze by a margin of 1,299 votes.
He ran this year for re-election on a platform of standing up for residents as casting the lone vote against raising property taxes in 2018. Cundiff also voted against zoning changes that allow storage facilities where they were previously prohibited.
Beckman self-funded about $10,000 of her $36,211 raised. Elias raised the most out of the four candidates with $58,626 in contributions.
The three candidates elected on Tuesday will be sworn in to office the business day after election results are certified, which is expected no sooner than March 27, according to City Clerk Rosemarie Call. Council members earn $22,955 annually and serve four-year terms.
Beckman said her first order of business as a council member will be to address the growing crisis over the national coronavirus pandemic.
“We have to get a grip on what’s happening nationally,” she said. “It’s also about affordable housing, the environment, all of it.”
What effect did COVID-19 have on turnout in this election? Election data shows that across Pinellas County, turnout was 36 percent. That is down from the 50 percent turnout level from the March 2016 election. Clearwater’s turnout in this election was not available late Tuesday.