Clearwater Mayor’s race to be decided after bitter, sometimes partisan battle

rector beckman
An ethics complaint, partisan divides and political infighting dominate the race for Clearwater Mayor.

Municipal elections in Clearwater are often quiet affairs that attract limited attention and disappointing voter turnout.

Four years ago, the last time the city had a mayoral election, voter turnout reached 32%. Like this year, that was a Presidential Election year, with the municipal election held the same day as the Presidential Primary in which then-President Donald Trump was the GOP nominee and now-President Joe Biden had all but secured the Democratic nomination.

With Both Trump and Biden the presumptive nominees for their respective parties this year, it stands to reason that turnout could again land in the 30s. However, this year’s mayoral campaign has been anything but quiet, and the players on at least one side are powerful.

On the ballot are Kathleen Beckman, a current City Council member, and lawyer Bruce Rector who previously ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2020.

The two are vying to replace interim Mayor Brian Aungst Sr., who was appointed late last year after the abrupt resignation of former Mayor Frank Hibbard.

Hibbard and Aungst — both Republicans — have endorsed Rector, along with about a dozen other conservative backers. Beckman, who has served on City Council since 2020, has support from Democrats, meanwhile.

But that’s not what has made this race interesting.

Hibbard, who resigned over frustration concerning spending on a new City Hall facility, filed an ethics complaint against Beckman in early February alleging that she used city resources for political gain.

At issue in his complaint are a series of emails between Beckman and various city staff in which she raised questions about Rector sharing information “with North Beach residents about $60 million in funds from ‘planning’ … being allocated to address infrastructure needs.”

At first, Beckman solicited information about the expenditure in question, noting in emails that she wanted to be sure residents were accurately informed about city business that affected their properties. But Beckman composed a letter with help from city staff that was sent on city letterhead to a list of residents, almost all of whom were women and whose contact information were obtained through a database used by the Democratic Party for voter communication.

Beckman defended her actions, noting that she “quickly pulled together a list of people on streets in the affected areas” from contact information she had on file. She said she was not targeting anyone specifically other than those who lived in the area affected by information she had gathered.

Nevertheless, the controversy didn’t stop there. Later, City Council member Lina Teixeira said she would not support Beckman for Clearwater Mayor.

While Teixeira didn’t mention the ethics complaint in her explanation, she said she had concerns with Beckman’s ability to unify the city, pointing to a “pattern of disparaging the other people” she works with or wishes to work with.

On the flip side, Beckman argues Rector is the one void ethical standards, calling the attacks against her “disturbing campaign tactics.” She specifically referenced a letter Hibbard sent to Clearwater residents explaining his rationale for supporting Rector. In the letter, Hibbard wrote that Beckman “once told our former City Manager Bill Horne that I was evil because I was a Republican.”

Horne has since passed away and cannot validate the claim. Beckman said the reference to the late City Manager is disrespectful to Horne, who she described as her “mentor during my early council days.”

“Mr. Rector’s disgraceful campaign tactics reveal a complete lack of ethics and suitability for the mayoral role,” she wrote in a statement at the time. “The poor judgment displayed by both Mr. Hibbard and Mr. Rector is unacceptable, and is extremely concerning to me and many Clearwater residents.”

Beckman’s statement references Hibbard’s letter, noting that it was then she “knew I had to call Mr. Rector to address his false statement and ask him why he would campaign on blatant lies.”

“He did not accept accountability for the statements and thought it was part of politics,” Beckman said.

“My competitor’s failure to even discuss these matters with me before exploiting them for political gain is not only inexcusable, but also disrespectful to the memory of Mr. Horne,” she continued. “It’s evident that my opponent will stoop to any level to secure an election victory.”

The uncharacteristically heated campaign has also gotten expensive. Rector, as of March 14, had raised nearly $133,000, while Beckman raised nearly $148,000.

Beckman is a Clearwater transplant. She grew up in Michigan and raised her own family — including children JoshuaSarah and Michael — in northern Illinois where Beckman worked as a public high school English and journalism teacher. She, her husband, Bryan, moved to Clearwater in 2016.

Beckman now serves as a Guardian ad Litem with the Pinellas County Courts where she serves as a voice and advocate for children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.

Rector lost his City Council bid in 2020, finishing last in a five-way race that Scientology critic and Beckman supporter Mark Bunker ultimately won.

But he’s running on fresh momentum this year, garnering powerful backing from U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna; Pinellas Property Appraiser Mike Twitty; Pinellas Clerk of the Court Ken Burke; Pinellas Tax Collector Charles Thomas; State Attorney Bruce Bartlett; Public Defender Sara Mollo; state Sens. Nick DiCeglie and Ed Hooper; state Reps. Kim Berfield and Berny Jacques; Clearwater City Council member David Allbritton; and Pinellas County Commissioners Chris Latvala and Brian Scott.

Polls open for voting Tuesday at 7 a.m. A list of polling places is available on the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website. In addition to the Presidential Primary, Clearwater City Council races for Seat 2 and 3 are also on the ballot.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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