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Pinellas County Commission Republican candidates noticeably absent from candidate forum

Democratic candidates Charlie Justice and Janet Long talked transportation and the environment.

Candidates for Pinellas County Commission Districts 1 and 3 met virtually on Wednesday for a discussion hosted by the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

While intended for local candidates to showcase themselves, both Republican candidates Larry Ahern and Tammy Sue Vasquez, running for District 1 and 3 respectively, were absent from the forum, although the club did send invitations.

Ahern sent in a statement to be read before the discussion began.

“With the support of Maureen [wife] and my faith, family and friends, I am running for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission to be a voice for the people,” Ahern’s statement read.

The candidate mentioned some platforms in his statement, including prioritizing law enforcement and stripping local regulation.

“As a business owner myself I know firsthand what business owners and their employees need; they need to work. What they don’t need is a county commission that overreaches and over regulates and puts them out of business,” Ahern said. “Public Safety is government’s highest priority, and while lawlessness runs rampant in cities across America, I will make it my duty to keep the people and businesses in Pinellas County safe.” 

Incumbent Democrat Janet Long, who currently holds the District 1 seat, was quick to critique her opponent’s absence.

“I haven’t been sitting in the shadows, writing out statements for other people to read,” Long said.

The two candidates in attendance, both incumbent Democrats, spoke about transportation and the environment.

Both incumbents are working to improve public transit and expanding it to areas of need.

“I think that we need to build on the successes that we’re having with SunRunner and programs like that, and really, what we need to do is ensure that we are connecting people to where they want to go,” said District 3 incumbent Charlie Justice. “We need to make sure that the transportation is getting people from where they live to where they work, or to where they want to recreate.”

Long, who as a Commissioner serves on the executive committee of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and chairs the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, works on transportation as a regional issue, working for access across county lines.

“The future is incredibly bright, we have the most amazing new technologies coming very soon within the next five years, which will be able to take our citizens throughout the region,” Long said, hinting at future projects.

Long’s top priority is the environment, an issue tied to transportation.

“I’ve held summits on the issues of climate change and sea-level rise, which in my opinion is the existential greatest threat that our county, our state and our country face right now for the very existence of our planet, as we know it,” Long said. “I want to be able to set the stage for my grandchildren, their grandchildren and generations after them to be able to live in the same paradise, that we live in today.”

Justice discussed the importance of working with neighboring localities in the Tampa Bay area to address environmental issues.

“It’s this working together as a region that we’ve made those decisions and those initiatives that our local governments have partnered with, it’s really, really critical,” Justice said. “And it’s not just an environmental thing. A clean bay — and not just a clean bay but a healthy estuary — means billions of dollars for our economy. And that’s just one example of where a regional approach can be very effective and can be very successful.”

Written By

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at kelly@floridapolitics.com.

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