Pat Gerard’s victory over Ed Hooper in the District 2 countywide race for Pinellas County Commission last fall was a big deal for local Democrats, and not just because they got the better of that intense and bitterly fought contest.
Gerard’s victory allowed the Democrats control of the Pinellas County Commission for the first time in a generation, and they’d like to keep that for awhile.
With Janet Long, Ken Welch and Charlie Justice on the ballot (along with Republican Karen Seel) in ’16, it won’t be easy for the Republicans, but they only need to turn one seat.
Recently, there have rumors that Republican Mike Mikurak might challenge Justice next year.
The 60-year-old Mikurak is Chairman of the audit committee at BayCare Health System, and serves on the boards of BayCare, CareerSource Pinellas and the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County.
Upon being contacted via Facebook last week, Mikurak wrote back, “I have to tell you I am flatter (sic) to hear that people are considering me for such an important position in our County and if I were to make a decision like the one you are asking me about I would be happy to speak with you.”
“I think Mike is doing his due diligence, just like any qualified individual in the community would be doing,” says Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee Chair Nick DiCigele. “And if it comes to that, great. If not, I am sure there are other people considering running for County Commission, and until somebody files, it’s just a rumor at this point.”
Justice served in the Legislature for a decade before losing to Bill Young for Congress in 2010. He calls the job of being a County Commission a great gig, and says he’s prepared that out of the 900,000 folks in the county, there will be challengers next year.
DiCeglie says that as the party of smaller government, Republicans want “pro-growth” commissioners who believe the same, and says that Greenlight Pinellas’ thumping at the polls last fall confirms that.
Justice doesn’t have much to say about transportation, deflecting that to PSTA, but says that there’s been a major change in the way the county goes about its business, and he attributes that to the change at the top, with Mark Woodward succeeding Bob LaSala last year.
“The previous administrator and the previous Commission had taken the tack that the county was going to be a one-stop provider of so many different services specifically in the health care and social service field, whereas Mr. Woodward and the current commission,we realized that wasn’t really sustainable and really that’s not our area of expertise.”
Justice says the county is now of a facilitator of services, as opposed to being a “one-stop shop for every service under the sun.”
That includes partnering more with the county’s two cities and nonprofits, which cuts out more bureaucracy.
For an example, on land zoning issues he says there’s an attempt to reduce 33 categories of regulations that could be reduced to less than half of that.
“So if you want to open a Costco or a frozen yogurt stand, you’ll understand whether you go to Largo or you go to unincorporated area, that some of the things will be the same and easier for people to open and operate businesses here.”
Another issue on the board’s radar is to focus on the five areas of poverty, cited in a 2013 county report. Those areas include South St. Petersburg, North Greenwood, Highpoint, East Tarpon Springs and Lealman.
It’s that last Pinellas City that has always been a concern for Justice personally.
“Lealman needs a lot of help and I think that we’re still working to get more done there,” he says, adding that will be a major focus for himself over the next year. “It’s a big nut to crack but I’m encouraged, that all seven of us on the commission are better understanding of the challenges in Lealman and now were figuring out the best ways to tackle those challenges.”