There’s a whole lot of buzz around Tuesday’s election because it’s a presidential preference primary and because news headlines have been flooding in about potential voting problems on Election Day as Floridians grapple with recommendations to practice social distancing amid spiraling fears about the coronavirus.
With the Democratic presidential primary down to just two candidates and former Vice President Joe Biden seeming to be the far ahead favorite, and a non-competitive Republican primary also on the ballot, some residents might be thinking it’s better to sit this one out.
But there are a lot of down-ballot races in Pinellas County to consider, too.
Local elections are also taking place in Clearwater, Gulfport, Kenneth City, Madeira Beach, Oldsmar, Pinellas Park, Redington Shores, Safety Harbor, South Pasadena, St. Pete Beach, Tarpon Springs and Treasure Island.
In a rare twist, Clearwater’s races for Mayor and City Council seats 2 and 3 have shaped up to be quite competitive in a city where local elections aren’t typically a big affair.
Four candidates are running for Mayor including former Mayor Frank Hibbard, former City Council member Bill Jonson, small business owner Morton Myers and Elizabeth “Sea Turtle” Drayer, who is running on an environmental platform to represent the interests of sea turtles.
The race is widely thought to come down to Hibbard and Jonson whose city resumes breed name recognition.
The Seat 2 race is even more crowded with five candidates running to replace Jay Polglaze who is not seeking reelection.
Among those candidates are Mark Bunker, a vocal Scientology critic who earned an endorsement from celebrity sitcom star Leah Remini. The “King of Queens” star is a former Scientologist herself who left the church after becoming disenchanted by what she called its darker inner workings.
Mike Manino is also running. He served as the 2019 chair of Clearwater’s Charter Review Committee and serves on the city’s Municipal Advisory Code Board, the Citizens Advisory Committee for Forward Pinellas and is a 2017 graduate of Clearwater’s Citizen Academy.
Manino is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility and low taxes. If elected, he plans to focus on job creation and growth, smart growth that manages development within the confines of the city’s resources and fostering a business friendly environment.
Bruce Rector is the vice chairman of the Clearwater Regional Chamber and is the author of a self-help book “Monday Morning Messages: Teaching, Inspiring and Motivating to Lead,” published in 2005.
He also currently serves as general counsel and management adviser for Sports Facilities Management and Sports Facilities Advisory in Clearwater.
Rector is also running on a platform of fiscal responsibility and low taxes.
Eliseo Santana is a retired tech worker for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and a U.S. Army Veteran. He touts his “eclectic” skill set as a unique qualification to serve on City Council.
After working with the Sheriff’s Office on its technology needs, Santana earned a master’s degree of business administration. In 2016, he ran unsuccessfully for the Pinellas County School Board.
Santana is running to establish better lines of communication between local government and its constituencies, particularly Hispanic voters.
Rounding out the Seat 2 candidates is small-business owner and wearable art maker Lina Teixeira.
Teixeira has a detailed outline of her vision for the city that includes improving government services and amenities ranging from the city’s permitting process to upgrading public infrastructure.
Her priorities include streamlining outdated permitting processes, restoring fiscal responsibility and accountability to the city, improving education, creating local jobs, improving infrastructure, improving the local economy and building a sustainable city.
The Seat 3 race is also a crowded one with four candidates running including incumbent Vice Mayor Bob Cundiff.
His main campaign priority is continuing work on council ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely in the city’s nearly $500 million budget.
Cundiff has consistently voted against raising property taxes in the city.
Running to unseat him are Kathleen Beckman, Bud Elias and Scott Thomas.
Beckman is running to restore the voice to Clearwater residents in dealing with their local government, which she believes is broken.
She wants to identify ways to make the city’s budget more lean, improve the environment and health outcomes for residents, increase the city’s affordable housing stock and improve overall quality of life throughout the city.
Elias is a more than four-decade resident of Clearwater who has served on numerous local boards including the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and Leadership Pinellas.
“I’m running to be a voice for every neighborhood. To help build consensus and get results. To focus on building a stronger city for the future,” Elias said in his initial campaign announcement. “A city that diversifies its local economy through a renewed focus on science and technology firms. A city that protects its natural beauty and foundational economic engine. A city that listens to its residents and executes on their vision.”
Elias also wants to strengthen the city’s code enforcement.
Thomas works as the senior human resources director at HCR ManorCare Dunedin. He previously served as a member of the Board of Education in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
During his two terms in office, he served as the board vice president, chaired the personnel committee and was a member of the finance committee. He was also a member of the County Intermediate Unit Board.
Thomas wants to create a thriving startup economy in Clearwater.
Safety Harbor will also be a race to watch as a vocal activist seeks to unseat a powerful incumbent.
Tanja Vidovic is challenging Mayor Joe Ayoub on a platform that seeks to replace what she sees as an entrenched incumbent who’s beholden to city developers.
Vidovic has made headlines in the race for her unwavering critique. She has also been headline-making in the past through a high-profile lawsuit against the city of Tampa in which she successfully argued she was discriminated against based on her gender as a Tampa firefighter.
Vidovic got her job back after being fired, along with a hefty settlement from the city, but has continued to speak out against gender discrimination and bias within the department.
Also on the Safety Harbor ballot are three candidates for the City Commission Seat 4 including incumbent Carlos Diaz. John Patrick Estok and David Roth are running to replace him.
Kenneth City voters will choose two of four candidates including newcomers Paul Asche, Bonnie Noble, William Rosemiller and Megan Zemaitis.
In Gulfport, April Thanos is challenging longtime incumbent Dan Liedtke in the Ward 1 race.
Madeira Beach races include Mayor and District 1. John Hendricks and Gary Hughes are running to replace current Mayor Maggi Black. Helen “Happy” Price is challenging incumbent Deby Weinstein.
Oldsmar voters will vote in a special election to fill a vacant seat. Candidates include Chris Bohr, Andrew Knapp and Kelly O’Brien. Two ballot questions are also up clarifying filling council vacancy procedures.
In Pinellas Park, Connie Bruce is challenging incumbent City Council member Rick Butler. The ballot also includes a charter question that would bring election and terms of the Mayor and City Council into accordance with Florida statute.
Redington Shores voters will cast a ballot in City Commission District 1 for either incumbent Tom Kapper or his challenger, Jennie Blackburn.
South Pasadena voters won’t decide on any candidates this election but do have 10 referendum questions on the ballot. Those questions include proposals to increase terms from three years to four, changing term limits, providing a 30-day limit to fill vacancies, allowing the Mayor to appoint his or her Vice Mayor, cost of living increases, moving city elections to the second Tuesday in March, creating a new city administrator position, a description of how to adopt ordinances by citizen initiative, updating the city’s charter review process and a new provision to place charter review recommendations on the first available agenda.
In St. Pete Beach, Christopher Graus is challenging incumbent Terri Finnerty in District 1.
Tarpon Springs voters will decide between Jacob Karr and newcomer Susan Hales. The ballot also includes 12 charter amendments and a referendum asking voters whether to approve selling public land to a private buyer.
The charter amendments include efforts to require a referendum for the sale of recreational property, defining powers and responsibilities of city commissioners, a measure pertaining to conflicts of interest, a definition of duties for an internal auditor, increased hiring and firing authority for the city clerk, a requirement that the city attorney or a representative attend quasi-judicial meetings, new residency requirements for the city manager, department heads and charter officers, a prohibition on city employees selling good or services to the city, creation of a sidewalk improvement fund, changing the name of Tarpon Springs General Hospital to Advent Health North Pinellas and two procedural questions.
Treasure Island includes two candidates for City Commission District 4 — Richard Harris and Maribeth Wetzel, both newcomers this year.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and remain open until 7 p.m. Voters are encouraged to check the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website for information about polling places because some locations might have moved as a result of the ongoing threat of COVID-19.