The Pinellas County Commission has become a more progressive force and has an opportunity to work even more collaboratively with two new members. The commissioners will be working with a new consensus-building county administrator as they seek to recruit new business and find broader solutions in areas ranging from homelessness to affordable housing to health care.
District 2 (countywide)
There are two credible candidates in this countywide District 2 race. Largo Mayor Pat Gerard has a solid record of steady leadership and consensus building. State Rep. Ed Hooper has been a capable state lawmaker who too often blindly followed the more conservative Republican leadership in Tallahassee.
Gerard, 64, was first elected to the Largo City Commission in 2000 and since 2006 has served as mayor in the county's third-largest city, which has a city manager form of government. The Democrat is an executive at Family Resources Inc., a nonprofit that assists troubled teens.
As mayor, Gerard supported a mix of property tax increases and budget cuts to help Largo through the economic recession, redevelopment plans for downtown and construction of a new community center. In 2007, Gerard eloquently defended former City Manager Steve Stanton and was one of only two members of the City Commission who voted against firing him after it was revealed he planned a sex-change operation.
Gerard supports the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum and grasps its potential. She supports the Safe Harbor homeless shelter, investing in the arts and regional cooperation.
Hooper, 67, was a Clearwater city commissioner before serving eight years in the Legislature. He easily defeated incumbent county Commissioner Norm Roche in the Republican primary. He now regrets sticking with House Republican leaders in opposing taking Medicaid expansion money, one example of his failure to lead. Hooper also opposes Greenlight Pinellas, which is critical to the county's future.
For Pinellas County Commission District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Pat Gerard.
District 4 (North Pinellas)
Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers is the clear choice to succeed retiring Commissioner Susan Latvala. Eggers ran a solid campaign to finish first in the crowded Republican primary in this North Pinellas district, which includes Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Oldsmar and East Lake. He has the knowledge, experience and even temperament to make immediate contributions on the commission.
Eggers, 57, supports the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum as a positive economic development effort even in this district where skepticism among conservative voters runs high. He seeks more vigorous efforts to attract new business with a more coordinated public and private effort, and he supports the Safe Harbor homeless shelter and other efforts to help the poor with health care and training to prepare for jobs.
In Dunedin, Eggers was a city commissioner for six years before being elected mayor in 2009. His work to keep the Toronto Blue Jays in the city for spring training appears to be paying off, and he has worked with other North Pinellas mayors to look for ways to consolidate services and build consensus on projects that benefit the entire area.
Mark Weinkrantz, 57, is a commercial airline pilot and an elected member of the East Lake Fire District Commission. The Democrat supports Greenlight Pinellas and is knowledgeable about county issues. But he had a bumpy tenure as chairman of the fire district with controversial personnel issues, and his aggressive personality would not be a good fit on the County Commission.
Carl Folkman, 48, is president of a wine and spirits company. He lost to Latvala in the Republican primary four years ago and now is running without a party affiliation. Folkman opposes Greenlight Pinellas, and his enthusiasm does not offset his lack of experience compared with the other candidates. Marcus Harrison, 56, of Palm Harbor is a member of the board of the county library cooperative and is running without a party affiliation. Eggers has the experience and expertise to fit in well on a commission that is on an upward swing. For Pinellas County Commission District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Dave Eggers.
Candidate replies The Tampa Bay Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for Pinellas County Commission and School Board should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday to Tim Nickens, editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL, 33731; or through our website at www.tampabay.com/letters. Replies are limited to 150 words.