Jeff Rosenfield, Author at Florida Politics

Jeff Rosenfield

Jeff Rosenfield is a freelance journalist based in Pinellas County. The 50-year-old has covered local politics, professional and amateur sports, special events and other subjects in the area for nearly ten years for AOL Patch, Tampa Bay Newspapers and the Associated Press, among others. A self-proclaimed sports nut, Jeff enjoys attending baseball and football games, grilling-out in the glorious Florida sunshine, and covering news and events that affect residents in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.

Belleair mayoral candidate responds to Gary Katica’s remarks

Spencer Connerat

Last week, incumbent Belleair Mayor Gary Katica spoke with Florida Politics about his opponent in the upcoming election, 49-year-old Spencer Connerat.

The 84-year-old Katica, first elected in 2007 and ran unopposed in the last three elections, called out Connerat for his inexperience when it comes to town affairs as well as what he characterized as his anti-government views, stemming from a “manifesto” he said Connerat read in front of hundreds of residents during a commission meeting several years ago.

“The guy that I’m running against, oh, about five or six years ago was the only time he was ever at a public hearing, and there was about 300 people here about the Belleview Biltmore,” Katica said. “And during his comments, he got up and read his manifesto while people were hissing and booing.”

Katica said the speech “went over like a turd in a punch bowl,” a claim Connerat did not dispute when we caught up with him last week.

“I read the document in January 2014,” he said by phone. “The mayor presided, he gave me my time and even admonished the crowd to be quiet, as there were a couple of hissings. I really appreciated that.”

Connerat said the document was from a case he filed in a Pinellas County small-claims court in March 2010 against then-President Barack Obama seeking “to record a true and correct copy of such tacit admission of ineligibility of the Office of the President of the United States of America.”

Further research reveals Connerat had previously written letters to Obama, dating as far back as his initial presidential campaign in 2008, asking “Senator Obama to provide proof of your status … as required by our Constitution.”

Gary Katica

Essentially, Connerat was a believer in the Obama “birther” conspiracy movement.

While he declined to comment directly about the contents of the case, saying “the document speaks for itself,” Connerat said the purpose of the lawsuit was to promote governmental and judicial accountability, not undermine it.

“Quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s such a big deal to the mayor,” he said, adding “it has nothing to do with being anti-government, it has to do with support of a legal process.

“If somebody’s in the government who’s not lawfully there, not duly qualified or elected, and somebody’s looking to expose that person or remove that person from office by using the judicial system, that’s working within the government. I think anyone can see that’s part of the lawful process. That’s supporting the government and the judiciary. So, (accusing me of) being anti-government is preposterous.”

Connerat, a compliance analyst at a financial advisory firm who ran for city commission in 2016, said he did not want to engage in a war of words through the press with his opponent.

“One of my goals is I’m running a positive campaign, so I want to speak positively,” he said. “Negativity is something I’m eschewing, to use a big word.”

Regarding Katica’s claim that Connerat never participated on civic boards or committees, Connerat said: “I’ve asked in the past to be considered for a board or committee, I even asked the mayor directly, as a way to get involved and I didn’t get a call back about that request.”

Asked if he was serious about contending, Connerat was adamant that he was in the race to try and win it.

“I think it’s important for people to have a choice,” he said, noting he went door-to-door and sent emails to registered voters and ultimately collected 40 signatures, 15 more than the city requires in order to qualify. “It’s tough to unseat an incumbent. Incumbents have a lot going for them. But it’s not a right, it’s not a title. No one’s entitled to the office ad infinitum. It’s something that, in my view, needs to be earned. It’s easy to say as an outsider, but incumbents should welcome competition because it makes that person sharpen his game.”

For his part, Katica said he welcomed competition, but only if his opponent was better qualified to be a leader of the city.

“I’ll take competition anytime,” he said. “But this is bizarre.”

Despite Katica having stated he doesn’t plan to debate his opponent before Election Day March 10, Connerat plans to request the two participate in a public forum.

“I’m going to write the mayor a letter inviting him to a debate at the venue of his choice, and we can invite the public,” he said.

“One of the outcomes of elections, typically, is debate and discussion if the issues,” Connerat added.

“Win or lose, it doesn’t necessarily matter, if there’s discourse and dialogue about how to improve the city or town or society at large. When you talk to the issues, things come to the fore, so yes, I’m happy to discuss them. I have a lot to learn from people who have been around for a long time, but I think it would be fun as well.”

Safety Harbor candidate forum gets venue change

The 2018 Safety Harbor candidate forum has received a venue change, moving from the City Commission Chambers at City Hall to the Baranoff Theater at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.

The event is still set to start at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, with a meet-and-greet in the foyer, followed by a two-hour question and answer period in the 150-seat theater.

According to officials for the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the forum, the venue change was necessitated by the large candidate field — six candidates qualified to run for the three open commission seats Tuesday, March 13.

“The forum has been moved to a larger venue to accommodate the larger crowd that six candidates could draw, and we thank the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa for providing this,” chamber President Susan Petersen said via email.

“It is important to us to present a fair and open forum, where there is room for all, at which the candidates can be heard on current relevant topics, so that the voters can make well-educated decisions for the future of our city. The Baranoff Theatre is the perfect setting for this with seating for all.”

Petersen said the chamber’s board of directors would provide moderators from the Pinellas County League of Women Voters with questions for the candidates.

She said the public would also be given the opportunity to submit questions before the start of the forum, and she noted a representative from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections’ office would be on hand to assist with voter registration and updating voter records.

Also, with the forum now taking place off city property, some of the restrictions surrounding the event have been lifted.

Whereas campaign materials were prohibited at City Hall, those materials, including pamphlets and campaign signs, will be allowed to be displayed at the Spa.

The venue change also forced the city to scrap plans to livestream the event, as they don’t have the capability to stream events outside City Hall.

According to City Manager Matt Spoor, a video of the event should be up on the city’s website by Monday, Feb. 5.

Spoor also said city officials fully support the venue change.

“The City supports the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of North Pinellas County in their collective desire to provide the most accommodating venue for a growing number of interested voters,” he said via email.

“A big THANK YOU to the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa who graciously volunteered to host the event in their Baranoff Ballroom. This location will allow for maximum voter participation, which is everyone’s ultimate goal.”

For more information on the 2018 Safety Harbor municipal election, visit cityofsafetyharbor.com.

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica bullish about upcoming election

Mayor Gary Katica (courtesy Town of Belleair)

Longtime Belleair resident and Mayor Gary Katica isn’t one to mince words.

In fact, the 84-year-old ex-police commissioner from New York recently admitted he is a “no B.S. guy.”

So, it’s no surprise that when Katica, who moved to Belleair in 1984, was asked about having to run for a fourth consecutive term against relative unknown Spencer Connerat following the end of the qualifying period Dec. 19, he responded by candidly saying he was “running against a nonentity” and called the upcoming election Tuesday, March 13, a waste of taxpayer dollars.

One month removed from those comments, Katica hasn’t changed his opinion of the race, or his opponent, one bit.

In fact, if anything, Katica has ramped up his pre-election rhetoric.

“The guy that I’m running against, oh, about five or six years ago was the only time he was ever at a public hearing, and there was about 300 people here about the Belleview Biltmore,” Katica said by phone over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. “And during his comments, he got up and read his manifesto while people were hissing and booing.”

Katica went on to add Connerat “looks really good, he talks really nice, but when you read something like that to the citizens of Belleair, what can I say, it went over like a turd in a punch bowl.”

When asked to describe the contents of Connerat’s speech, which he said took place in 2009, Katica said “essentially, it’s a manifesto against the president of the United States and the United States government. And this guy has not been to a public meeting since, he has not participated in anything with the town of Belleair, and he calls me up about the last week or two in November and tells me he’s gonna run for mayor against me.”

A check of the city’s website revealed meeting videos do not go back as far as 2009, making Katica’s claims about the content of Connerat’s speech impossible to immediately verify, and attempts to reach the candidate over the holiday weekend were unsuccessful.

However, the 49-year-old Connerat, who has lived in Belleair since 2001 and ran for city commission in 2016, said after the qualifying period ended that he felt “there should be a competition for elected office” and “it is good to have competition.”

When asked about those remarks, Katica said it wasn’t just Connerat’s inexperience that bothered him, but his opponent’s political beliefs.

“He has zero background. Not a thing. Never asked to volunteer for a committee or anything. Nothing. Zippo,” he said. “But it’s more than his inexperience, it’s his thoughts on government.

“I’m a Korean War vet, I volunteered for the military, and you know, I get very offended by this type of stuff.

“If you’re going to be involved, anybody that’s ever been involved (in politics) in my time, and I was appointed as commissioner in (2000) and I’ve run for mayor three or four times and it’s always been unopposed, because I’m an ex-police commissioner from New York and I’m a no B.S. guy, and we do what we have to do. I’ve been through the Belleair Biltmore (sale), and we worked that out. We worked out the drainage (issue) in Bellaire, we’ve worked out the erosion of the bluffs. I mean, what can I say, I’ve lived here since 1984 and I love this town.”

Katica, who went on to become a successful car salesman following his retirement from the force in 1977 and has worked at Dimmit Cadillac in Clearwater since 1981, said he has no plans to debate Connerat.

“I hope not. I don’t want to sit up there with him,” he said.

He also said he isn’t worried about facing the political newcomer at the polls in March.

“Since he put his name on the ballot, he hasn’t been to anything, he hasn’t volunteered for anything or done anything,” Katica said of Connerat.

“And the worst part is, it’s costing the town five thousand dollars to have a contested election, one that he is certain, absolutely certain, to lose.”

For more information on the 2018 Belleair municipal election, visit townofbelleair.com.

Six candidates to vie for three open Safety Harbor City Commission seats

Six candidates will be running for three open city commission seats in Safety Harbor’s 2018 municipal election. The qualifying period ended noon Tuesday for the March 13 ballot.

The candidates, listed alphabetically by seat:

SEAT #1:

Nancy Besore

Scott Long (incumbent)

SEAT #2:

Spencer Bell

Cliff Merz (i)

SEAT #3:

Damon Lister

Andy Zodrow (i)

The group is flush with political experience at the local and state level.

Long, Merz and Zodrow are incumbents seeking another term; Besore served six years on the SHCC and ran for mayor in 2014 and commission last year; Lister ran for Seat 1 last year and recently resigned as the city’s economic development liaison to run for Seat 3 this year; and Bell is a relative unknown in town but a veteran of Florida politics who led Jackie Toledo’s successful campaign for State House in October and served as the regional director for the Republican Party of Florida from 2014-2016.

The depth of the field and experience of the candidates is impressive, as well as a good sign for the city moving forward, according to Mayor Joe Ayoub.

“It is great that so many people are willing and interested to put themselves out there and go through the rigorous process of running a campaign so that they can hopefully serve our community,” Ayoub said via email.

“It benefits our residents and our city as a whole to have so many qualified candidates debating the issues and sharing their vision so that our citizens can have a choice in how our city is governed and the direction it is taken.”

The six candidates are scheduled to participate in a forum Thursday, Feb. 1, beginning with a meet and greet at 6 p.m. at Safety Harbor City Hall, located at 750 Main Street.

For more information on Safety Harbor’s 2018 municipal election, visit cityofsafetyharbor.com.

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