CLEARWATER — After sitting through debates and being peppered with television commercials, e-mail blasts, postal mailings and yard signs, city residents who haven’t mailed in their ballots will go to the polls Tuesday to fill two city council posts and the seat vacated by the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
Tens of thousands of voters already have cast ballots by mail or early voting, according to reports from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.
City council races
Incumbent Bill Jonson is defending Seat 4 against challengers David Allbritton and Konrad McCree, Jr., while Hoyt Hamilton and Jon-Paul Rosa are vying for Seat 5, currently held by term-limited Vice Mayor Paul Gibson.
The debates revealed a lot of similarities among all five candidates, including their love for Clearwater and support for:
• developing Clearwater Beach through its master plan, Beach by Design, which includes guidelines on building plots; setbacks; mass, height and elevation; exterior facades; view corridors; and room density.
• spending $10.5 million in tax money to renovate the Capitol Theatre in hopes of encouraging the private revitalization of downtown.
• building a new home for Clearwater Marine Aquarium and its movie star dolphins on the current site of city hall.
• focusing on neighborhoods throughout the city and not just the beach and downtown.
• improving communications with the city’s largest taxpayer, the Church of Scientology, which owns a number of properties that do not qualify for the church exemption.
One of the major differences between the candidates involves solving the city’s deficits — $1.4 million in the last fiscal year and an anticipated $1.7 million in the current fiscal year — without raising the property tax rate, currently just less than 5.2 mills. Here are their views:
• Allbritton wants to focus on increasing the tax base by expanding existing businesses and attracting new ones, and he doesn’t favor raising the tax rate.
• Jonson desires more process improvements within the city operation and re-evaluation of non-essential needs.
• McCree would spend tax proceeds wisely to prevent dipping into city reserves and would seek input from his constituents before making a decision.
• Rosa would “investigate a little more” to determine whether a tax increase is necessary.
• Hamilton advocates, “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will follow,” and said a rate increase would be an “absolute last resort.”
Here’s one last look at their credentials:
Council Seat 4
Allbritton, 63, resides in Island Estates, is married and has three children and one granddaughter. He attended North Carolina Wesleyan College. He owns his own contracting firm and served on the Code Enforcement Board from 2000-03. He was elected to the Downtown Development Board in 2003 and was chairman for eight years. He stepped down last fall to run for city council.
He also served on the advisory board of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, the Clearwater Business Task Force Committee.
McCree, Jr., 29, resides in the eastern part of the city, is married and has three children. He holds a bachelor’s degree in health service administration and a master’s in ministry. He works as a business analyst for Wellcare Health Plans, Inc., and as senior pastor at the nondenominational Simply Kingdom Ministries.
He serves on the North Greenwood Neighborhood Coalition and the Upper Pinellas Ministerial Alliance. He is a Pinellas County schools mentor, United Way volunteer, and a member of the NAACP and the Urban Initiative for Greenlight Pinellas.
Jonson, 69, resides in the Countryside Northridge subdivision and is married with five children and five grandchildren. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Drake University in 1966. He is retired from Honeywell International. He served on the city council from 2001-07 and was elected again in 2010. In 1988, he formed Citizens for a Better Clearwater. He chaired the Clearwater Environmental Advisory Board, and was a member of the Clearwater Beach Roundabout Advisory Committee and the Code Enforcement Review Committee.
He has represented the city on the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and Tampa Bay Estuary Program. He’s currently vice chairman of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, president of the Suncoast League of Cities and chairman of the Courtney Campbell Scenic Highway Citizens Advisory Committee.
Council Seat 5
Hamilton, 55, a resident of Coachman Ridge subdivision, is married, has two sons and is expecting two grandchildren this spring. He received a bachelor’s degree in industrial management from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1980. Co-owner of the Palm Pavilion restaurant and Palm Pavilion Inn on Clearwater Beach, he served on the council from 1999-2006.
He currently is on the boards for the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, Clearwater for Youth, Religious Community Services, and the Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. He previously served on the board of the Leadership Tampa Bay American Public Gas Association’s Public Gas Policy Council, Pinellas Planning Council, Pinellas County Tourist Development Council, Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Bay Hospitality Alliance.
In addition, he once served as chairman for the Pinellas Hotel Motel Association (now the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association); president of the Tampa Bay Georgia Tech Alumni Club; and twice as president of the Clearwater Beach Rotary Club.
Rosa, 30, a resident of Seville subdivision, grew up in St. Petersburg. He is a U.S. Army veteran who served three tours as an intelligence analyst in Afghanistan.
Congressional District 13
As The St. Petersburg Tribune reported Sunday, polling suggests a tight race between Republican David Jolly and Democrat Alex Sink, who, along with Libertarian Lucas Overby, are facing off in the special election Tuesday to fill the post left vacant by Young’s death in October.
It also has been a brutal campaign. Because it’s the first congressional election of the year, many observers consider its outcome to be a litmus test for the national political mood going into the 2014 midterm elections. As a result, national Republican and Democratic groups have spent millions of dollars on advertisements disparaging the opposition, often misleadingly.
To read the latest updates regarding the campaign, go to http://tbo.com/news/politics/.