As Election Day nears, the candidates for Pinellas County Commission have shifted from campaigning to helping residents deal with the aftermath of natural disasters.
Democrat Amy Kedron held a town hall meeting and helped draft policies for businesses and residents to confront the Red Tide algae bloom. Republican state Rep. Kathleen Peters hosted an event that encouraged supporters to drop off supplies for residents devastated by Hurricane Michael.
Peters said voters need to judge each candidate’s track record of helping Pinellas County.
"I am a true public servant who has gotten measurable results for our community, state, and those who don’t have a voice," she said. "My experience in managing local government allows me to hit the ground running to make Pinellas County a more prosperous place to live."
Kedron hopes the top of the Democratic Party ticket can push her to victory next month.
"I have worked to mobilize my party to work collectively toward a Blue Wave," her statement said. "This is why my campaign slogan is Come Together Right Now: there is strength in unity."
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The contest to replace late Commissioner John Morroni is coming down to a seasoned politician with a hefty war chest against a political novice who has struggled to raise money.
The District 6 seat generally includes Pinellas Park, Seminole, northeast St. Petersburg and the south beaches and had been represented by a Republican commissioner for at least 18 years.
With about 172,000 voters, it is 39 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat, 28 percent no-party affiliation and 1 percent other, according to the most recent available report from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.
Peters, 57, a former mayor of South Pasadena, was first elected to the state House in 2012 and has two more years before she would have to leave due to term limits. Her dislike of partisan politics in Tallahassee has put her at odds with the House Republican leadership.
Besides keeping taxes low and helping recruit businesses and jobs, her goal is to create a coordinated system of care for the mentally ill and those battling addiction problems because both issues often intersect, she said.
In the House, Peters became an authority on mental health by visiting prisons, mental hospitals and judges. She said that resonates with voters because so many families struggle with those issues.
"I have been a leader in the state addressing the mental health and addiction issues that we face on a daily basis and have reformed state policies to increase access to care and slow the criminalization of people who are suffering," Peters said.
Peters has confronted thorny local concerns. She helped pass legislation to reform the Pinellas Construction Licensing Board after a Tampa Bay Times’ investigation exposed the lack of oversight.
When St. Petersburg failed to properly notify residents of spills of partially treated sewage, Peters helped pass legislation that now requires the public to be notified within 24 hours of a discharge.
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Kedron, 42, similarly wants to protect public health with proper research, signage and education, and work to award grants and low-interest loans to small businesses to help them recover. Another goal is to strengthen water, land and environmental management policies to help reduce the impact of harmful algae blooms.
Kedron, a Buffalo native who lives in Madeira Beach, is currently unemployed. She earned law and doctoral degrees at the University of Buffalo but said she has never taken a bar exam in Florida to work as an attorney.
Kedron spent years working on social, economic, and environmental issues around the Buffalo business community. She moved to Florida in 2010 to work as an instructor at USF St. Petersburg and Ringling College of Art and Design.
She said she is running for office because her experience as a community activist can help propel the county forward.
Kedron called herself a leader, despite not winning public support from the county’s four Democratic commissioners.
"I lead in times of crisis," her statement said. "I focus on our common interests: a healthy environment, strong community and thriving economy. I have earned the respect and support of several Republican voters."
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Peters has raised $210,000, including $41,000 between Sept. 15 and Sept. 28. Kedron has collected $31,000 and only $300 in that two-week period, according to records.
Kedron said she has raised money from "people and small businesses." Unlike Peters, Kedron said she hasn’t accepted money from "special interests or polluters" and never will vote for "state laws that threaten our water, environment and public health."
"I am a green economy leader who will represent a beachfront economy that is confronting environmental challenges such as Red Tide, sea level rise and climate change," Kedron said in a statement. "I plan to protect our natural resources and grow a strong beachfront economy."
Peters scoffed at Kedron’s accusations.
She said she has a record of sponsoring legislation to protect waterways in Gulfport, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and Pinellas Park and around Shell Key Preserve and Fort De Soto.
"When campaigning, candidates are measured not only by talking the talk, but by walking the walk," Peters said.
Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.