LARGO – With desperation goes high risk and it appears that high risk politics are being played in Largo.
Hard on the heels of the firefighters’ union’s endorsement of candidates Rodney Woods and Gigi Arntzen last week came another surprise endorsement, that of Pat Gerard over Mayor Bob Jackson.
Woods and Arntzen were both losers in last year’s election. Woods was swamped by Andy Guyette and Arntzen was a surprise loser to Mary Black.
While Arntzen and her opponent, long time Commissioner Jean Halvorsen, will no doubt stage a close race, Woods is given little chance against veteran Ernie Bach, a former member of the commission.
The surprise of this year’s election circus is that Gerard is leaving a relatively safe commission seat to go up against Jackson, a figurative Goliath of a personality in Largo.
Jackson has been on the scene so long as to be thought of as a permanent fixture and gets around so much virtually every man, woman and child in Largo has met him at one time or another.
He was informed last week that the fire union would back Gerard.
Connect the dots – Gerard, Arntzen, Woods all endorsed by the fire fighters. The link is to City Manager Steve Stanton, who plucked Jeff Bullock, former boss of the union, out of relative obscurity last year to become fire chief. The two are very close.
In fact, Stanton had announced that a nationwide search was being launched to find a replacement for the retiring (some insiders say forced out) Chief Caroll Williams.
The following Monday, Stanton said that after a weekend of agonizing over the decision, he had decided to name his jogging mate, Bullock, a man over whom he has complete dominance as fire chief. Some of the requirements set forth as criteria for a fire chief were waived.
Most observers felt Stanton was entitled to name key department heads of his own choice. Those picks have been, overall, very good, Police Chief Lester Aradi being a prime example.
For that matter, Bullock has been an effective fire chief who has apparently done a good job.
But key in this election is control of the commission and this is something that is important to Stanton.
While many feel that the wiser course for a city manager would be to give politics a wide berth, if Woods (unlikely as that seems), Arntzen and Gerard (as mayor) were to join Gay Gentry, Harriet Crozier on the commission Stanton would not only be in the cat bird seat, he would own it.
That scenario would further isolate Black who is a burr under Stanton’s saddle and Guyette would lose any power as swing vote.
However, with Bach on the commission, joining incumbents Jackson and Halvorsen, the complexion of the board would present a far more bleak outlook for Stanton.
And that is what the fire union endorsements and the election is all about.
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