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  1. Florida Politics

Campaigns are rumbling ahead of qualifying for Clearwater City Council March election

CLEARWATER — It's two weeks before candidates can officially file paperwork to run for two open seats in the March 13 City Council election, but campaigns are already getting organized.

City Council member Hoyt Hamilton said he intends to run for a second term in Seat 5. He also served from 2001 to 2006. He will face real estate broker and Community Development Board Chairman John Funk, who announced his bid on Wednesday.

Retired building contractor and CDB member David Allbritton announced last week he intends to run for Seat 4, which is being vacated by the term-limited Bill Jonson.

The election overlaps a pivotal time in the city, when officials are implementing a $55 million waterfront redevelopment plan, addressing regional transportation concerns and facing an uncertain relationship with downtown's largest property owner, the Church of Scientology.

City Manager Bill Horne said that during a meeting earlier this year, he asked Scientology leader David Miscavige how the church would react if the city bought a 1.4 acre vacant property Scientology also wanted. Horne said Miscavige responded that he'd wait to collaborate and "work with the next council."

Since the City Council voted 5-0 to buy the property April 20, Scientology officials have had little communication with Horne's staff, ignoring most of their calls and emails.

The 2018 race also sets up the 2020 election, where the three remaining seats, including the mayor, will be up for grabs.

City Council member Doreen Caudell has one of the seats up in 2020, but she must resign by November 2018 because she is running for the Pinellas County Commission. Her seat would be filled by an appointment until it is put on a special or regular election ballot for the remainder of the unexpired term, City Clerk Rosemarie Call said.

City Council members serve four-year terms and are paid $20,630 per year. The mayor is paid $24,755 for a four-year term.

Horne has said he plans to retire in 2020, which will be his 20th year on the job, also setting the stage for a new chapter of administrative leadership.

Martin Hughes, 44, a software tester who announced a run for the 2016 County Commission race but never officially qualified, said Tuesday that he intends to run for the City Council. He declined to say for which seat until filing paperwork Sept. 14.

"I believe Clearwater needs a refresh of its leadership also reflective of some diversity on the City Council," said Hughes, who was born in South Korea.

Allbritton, 66, who lost the election for Seat 4 against Jonson in 2014, said he was running again so he could steer a "more proactive than reactive" government.

He said he's interested in helping to recruit more businesses to the city and "making things easier for them when they commit to establishing their businesses here." He said he will also focus his campaign on infrastructure, traffic and public safety concerns.

Hamilton, 58, owner and vice president of his family's Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Beach, said he wants to continue nurturing the progress made over that past three and a half years. He said the city will face a significant shift in leadership in 2020 with the search for a new city manager, and he has the experience to guide that new chapter.

"We've got a lot of things to focus on, and I make my decisions based on what's best for all of Clearwater," Hamilton said.

Funk, 70, said he's pursuing his first bid for elected office to make a difference in the community after years of volunteer work and involvement on the city's Community Development Board.

He said he's concerned about the area's lack of affordable housing and government controls on spending.

With a background in planning and business, he said he's challenging an incumbent to bring "a different view" to local government.

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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