1. Opinion

Times recommends: For Hillsborough County Commission

The Hillsborough County Commission faces several major challenges in the coming years, from funding transportation improvements and addressing the lack of affordable housing to controlling the budget-busting effects of sprawl. Commissioners are elected to four-year terms and paid $99,997 per year.

Ken Hagan, Republicans | District 2 (north county)

Chris Paradies says he was motivated to seek elected office for the first time to end the "corrosive influence" of big money donors and career politicians - a direct jab at incumbent Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan, who was first elected in 2002. But Paradies' passion doesn't translate into a substantive agenda. Hagan is the better choice for Republicans.

Hagan, 50, is a pro-business conservative who has emerged as a leading voice on the board. Though associated most recently with the efforts to build the Tampa Bay Rays a new stadium in Tampa, Hagan has spent much of his time looking to improve the quality of county services. He is a strong supporter of parks and youth programs, and he has grown into a proponent for cooperative efforts at the regional level.

Paradies, 58, a patent attorney and Keystone resident, sounds stronger on managing growth, but he demonstrates no real plan for improving transportation or tackling other priorities. In the Republican primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ken Hagan.

Mariella Smith, Democrats
District 5 (countywide)

Mariella Smith is among the best local candidates to come along in years. Her knowledge of the issues and commitment to improve the county's quality of life make her uniquely suited for public office.

Smith, 64, is a small business owner and longtime community activist who is making her first run for elected office. A fourth-generation Tampa native, Smith understands that controlling growth in the unincorporated area is key to addressing the county's transportation needs and to preserving a balance of urban and rural lifestyles. She has a broad perspective and is a regional thinker, which are both needed in a countywide office. Smith is well-known for doing her homework, and her long history in bringing citizens into the political process shows her regard for open government.

Elvis Piggott, a 30-year-old church pastor, said pursuing elected office is an extension of his civic service. His focus on affordable housing and small business development is commendable. But Piggott lacks Smith's policy depth and demonstrated ability to make a difference.

In the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Mariella Smith.

Victor Crist, Republicans
District 5 (countywide)

This choice is easy. Current commissioner and former state legislator Victor Crist has the policy expertise and knowledge of government to emerge as the strongest Republican candidate in November. His challenger, Angel S. Urbina Capo, offers few good or practical ideas.

Crist, 61, has held elected office in state or local government for a quarter-century. He is better prepared for overseeing a county of this size and diversity. He has an awkward style, but Crist is competent, and his institutional history is helpful in guiding this fast-growing region.

Urbina, 47, is a cyber-security consultant and offers no compelling agenda for his first-time candidacy. He cited education as the county's most pressing need, and he seems to lack an understanding of Hillsborough's transportation problems and the mechanics of governing. Republicans have in Crist the strongest chance of retaining this seat.

In the Republican primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Victor Crist.

Kimberly Overman, Democrats | District 7 (countywide)

The candidates in this four-person field are all familiar with the issues given their experience in government or as community activists. Kimberly Overman stands apart for her thoughtful, creative agenda.

Overman, 60, a certified financial planner, has lived in the county for 34 years and served on a variety of neighborhood and government planning boards. That experience and her sense of engagement has given Overman a broad view of Hillsborough's problems and an informed idea of how to address them. She wants a smarter approach to managing growth, investments in transportation and affordable housing, and land use policies that make more efficient use of existing public services.

Ray Chiaramonte, 68, a longtime Hillsborough planning official, would bring expertise to the transportation discussion. His regional perspective also could help make Tampa Bay more competitive. Mark Nash, 56, a former commission aide, has sensible ideas for promoting business and smarter transit options. Sky U. White, 34, a nurse and community activist, would look to make housing and transportation easier to access and afford.

Overman, though, has shown a persistence as a private citizen to improve her community, a sense of initiative that would well serve a board that too often teeters on paralysis.

In the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kimberly Overman.

Aakash Patel, Republicans
District 7 (countywide)

Neither candidate in this race is particularly well-prepared, but Aakash Patel's broader outlook and political appeal make him the stronger Republican choice.

Patel, 34, owns a networking company and chairs the county's Early Learning Coalition. From his private and public work, Patel has a taste of the county's most pressing issues. He largely sticks to generalities in discussing the budget, transit and other major concerns, but he isn't overtly driven by a partisan agenda. Patel respects the value of citizen involvement and the open nature of government. His wide contacts would likely help him mature should he win office.

Todd Marks, 48, is a lawyer who says he would bring consistently conservative principles to the board. He is vague on the issues beyond vowing to make transportation a higher priority within the existing budget.

Both candidates are something of a gamble. Patel at least has a fuller appreciation of what county government does. His cross-partisan appeal would give Republicans a better chance of keeping this seat.

In the Republican primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Aakash Patel.