SAFETY HARBOR — On March 14, voters will choose between former mayor Joe Ayoub and current Seat 1 Commissioner Janet Hooper to replace Mayor Andy Steingold, who has decided to step out of local politics for the first time in a decade. The Tampa Bay Times asked the candidates to share a bit about themselves and what they plan to do if elected.
Ayoub, 40, has lived in Safety Harbor for 26 years. He is a chief financial officer for Georgia-based company Data Blue and has been involved in civic and professional groups in Pinellas County. He has served on the Pinellas Planning Council, Pinellas County School Transportation Safety Committee, Safety Harbor Middle School Advisory Council, Safety Harbor Budget Advisory Committee and as board chairman of Plato Charter School Academy and board member of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Ayoub served as a city commissioner from March 2007 to January 2013, when he was elected mayor. He held the city's top spot until March 2014, when he lost to Steingold.
Hooper, 66, was elected to the City Commission in 2015 after moving to Safety Harbor three years ago. For more than eight years, she has been the executive director of the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center, a nonprofit in the city offering educational and social services to low-income families in Pinellas. Before that, Hooper was the vice president of development for the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay for two years and interim president and director of development for the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation for three years.
Hooper also is a member of Safety Harbor Rotary Club, Safety Harbor Kiwanis Club, Safety Harbor First Friday Committee, Safety Harbor Charter Review Committee, Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Clearwater Civitan Club.
Why are you seeking this office, and what are your objectives?
Ayoub: "We have a downtown that is struggling as evident by the many vacant buildings and empty storefronts. I want to end the revolving door of businesses that come and then go out of business in just a short period of time by putting a plan in place to revitalize our downtown and help our struggling businesses."
Hooper: "I believe in sustainable growth that complements Safety Harbor's character, considers our infrastructure and does not overburden our taxpayers. … I want to see Safety Harbor grow without sacrificing those pieces of our fabric that make our city so desirable. … I envision intentional, well-managed growth."
What is your vision for growth and development, specifically on Main Street?
Ayoub: "Having a thriving downtown does not mean we have to give up our small town charm or quaintness that we all cherish." He suggests using public-private partnerships, tax incentives and the hiring of an economic development officer to draw more businesses to Main Street.
Hooper: "We need to find creative ways to reduce vacancies and recruit more businesses to downtown. The solution is not as simple as increasing density, but bringing all stakeholders to the table." She suggests implementation of a five-year business plan to focus city resources and maximize city assets. She has expressed interest in mixed-use buildings, adding a part-time business development staff position and increasing community redevelopment dollars.
What is your overall vision for Safety Harbor?
Ayoub: "To maintain our small-town charm and tree canopy while making our downtown more vibrant with thriving businesses so it will be a destination for residents to come together in their leisure time." He suggests new amenities, like picnic tables, shade pavilions and a kayak launch at Waterfront Park, as well as renovations to the city library, recreation center and museum, where he says he will push for more community programs.
Hooper: "Safety Harbor has grown and will continue to grow, but it is how we grow that will make the difference. Sustainable growth within the capacity of our infrastructure will allow our city to mature without over-taxing our residents." She says downtown should offer a "good mix" of retail, services, businesses and restaurants, and parks should offer more recreational activities and trails.
Contact Megan Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org or (904) 298-5213. Follow @mareevs.
Editor's note: This article was changed to reflect the following clarification — Janet Hooper is a member of Safety Harbor Rotary Club, Safety Harbor Kiwanis Club, Safety Harbor First Friday Committee, Safety Harbor Charter Review Committee, Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Clearwater Civitan Club. Those groups were omitted from a Jan. 27 article.