The Times Editorial Board recommendation for Clearwater mayor | Editorial
The race pits Bruce Rector against Kathleen Beckman.
Bruce Rector and Kathleen Beckman
Bruce Rector and Kathleen Beckman [ Times files ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Feb. 16

Editor’s note: The Times Editorial Board is making recommendations in the race for Clearwater mayor and on a ballot measure that would change the way the city elects City Council members. Below you will find the recommendation for mayor. Click here for the ballot measure recommendation. Election Day is March 19.

Clearwater voters have two solid choices in the race for mayor. Both attorney Bruce Rector and current City Council member Kathleen Beckman are working hard to connect with voters. Both have enough experience and both have the city’s best interest at heart. But Clearwater needs a leader who can create consensus and build coalitions, someone steady who knows which battles are worth fighting and how to fight those battles without burning too many bridges. Rector is that candidate.

Bruce Rector, on left, a candidate for Clearwater mayor, shakes hands with homeowner Luke Lovgren, a 20-year Clearwater resident, as Rector goes door to door to talk with voters.
Bruce Rector, on left, a candidate for Clearwater mayor, shakes hands with homeowner Luke Lovgren, a 20-year Clearwater resident, as Rector goes door to door to talk with voters. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Rector, 60, talks a lot about “making good things happen” and wanting to “unite people” to make Clearwater a better place. He doesn’t think the city is meeting its potential, which is true. Clearwater hasn’t enjoyed anything close to the renaissance that has transformed the downtowns in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

At the same time, Rector remains clear-eyed about the challenges presented by the Church of Scientology, which wields outsize influence, especially in the downtown area. Many of the 200 properties in and near downtown controlled by limited liability companies tied to Scientology parishioners have remained empty for years, an economic millstone if ever there was one. Dealing with Scientology can be perplexing and frustrating for even the most skilled politicians. No one should expect any Clearwater mayor to easily break the impasse. But Rector’s more likely to help find constructive ways to connect with the church, while ensuring the city’s interests are maintained.

Rector, who works as general counsel for a sports facilities management firm, lost a five-person race for City Council in 2020, his only previous run in Clearwater. Still, his resume includes roles with plenty of local boards and associations, which has given him insights into how local government functions. He holds — or held — leadership positions with the City of Clearwater Community Development Board, the Clearwater Beach Association, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Clearwater Parks and Recreation Board. If he is elected, that experience will help Rector get up to speed quickly.

His lack of City Council experience matters less in Clearwater’s “weak mayor” form of government. The mayor, elected to a four-year term, is one of five votes on the City Council, with no more power than the others. The appointed city manager runs the day-to-day operations, and the mayor runs the City Council meetings and is the face of the government. Rector told the Times Editorial Board that he wants to ensure that all five members of the council listen to and respect each other. “It should never get chippy from the podium,” he said.

Rector has the support of the local police and firefighter employee unions and the local chamber of commerce’s political action committee. Current Mayor Brian Aungst Sr. endorsed him, as did the previous Mayor Frank Hibbard and current council member David Allbritton. The race is officially nonpartisan, though Rector has a stream of endorsements from local Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, State Attorney Bruce Bartlett and several current Pinellas County commissioners.

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Beckman, 59, is a retired teacher elected to City Council in 2020. She is known for hard work, neighborhood advocacy and a solid grasp of policy issues. She has championed environmental concerns (and has the endorsement of the Suncoast Sierra Club).

Beckman faces a Florida Elections Commission complaint that alleges she used city resources to aid her mayoral campaign. Beckman is accused of comingling her campaign with city business by using staff time to create a letter about flooding, sending it only to female residents and using Democratic campaign software to pull the names and addresses. She doesn’t deny that she did it, but she insists it was not improper. She is also in a feud with Hibbard, the former mayor, over whether she called him an “evil” Republican. Beckman denies Hibbard’s claim and has labeled both the elections complaint and Hibbard’s allegation as dirty campaign tactics. But these are the types of distractions the next Clearwater mayor doesn’t need.

The name tag of Bruce Rector, a candidate for Clearwater mayor.
The name tag of Bruce Rector, a candidate for Clearwater mayor. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

If elected, Rector will have to be a quick study on the sometimes-arcane rules that guide city councils. But his deep business and volunteer experience will help serve him well as mayor. He’s confident without being arrogant. Smart, while understanding he doesn’t know everything. He’s the right person to help lead Clearwater.

The Times Editorial Board recommends Bruce Rector for Clearwater mayor.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion for more opinion news.