Bruce Rector bests Kathleen Beckman for Clearwater Mayor after bruising campaign

Bruce Rector
Rector likely benefitted from an ethics complain filed against his opponent, City Council member Kathleen Beckman.

Lawyer Bruce Rector, once denied a seat on City Council, has been elected Clearwater Mayor.

Rector beat opponent Kathleen Beckman with nearly 63% of the vote, according to unofficial results.

Rector will replace interim Mayor Brian Aungst Sr., who was appointed late last year after the abrupt resignation of former Mayor Frank Hibbard.

“I just worked really hard to connect with the citizens of Clearwater and I just think it reflects the better connection I had with them,” Rector told the Tampa Bay Times. “I was just able to listen to people and understand what they are concerned about and they responded to my message a lot better.”

Beckman conceded the race about an hour after polls closed, with a statement thanking supporters.

“I cannot thank enough the many people that supported me during my candidacy and while serving as a council member,” Beckman wrote in a statement following her election night defeat. “I am humbled by their faith in me and their generosity. It has been a true privilege to serve the residents of Clearwater the last four years.”

In addition to her statement, Beckman offered a list of accomplishments for which she is proud, including lower taxes and energy costs, new sustainability efforts, a new strategic plan, and more. 

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

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

Beckman suffered a flurry of criticism heading into the final weeks of campaigning. 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.

Beckman argued Rector was the one void ethical standards, calling the attacks against her “disturbing campaign tactics,” though it seems voters sided with Rector. Still, Beckman 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 referenced 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 also got expensive. Rector, as of March 14, had raised nearly $133,000, while Beckman raised nearly $148,000.

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

But he ran 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.

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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