In terms of local elections, Clerk of the Circuit Court generally resides as among the least sexy in terms of garnering much interest from the news media and the public.
But that’s not the case in Hillsborough County this year, where there’s already been an unusual amount of attention paid to next year’s election, ever since soon-to-be-termed-out-of-office Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner announced right before Easter that he would challenge Democratic incumbent Pat Frank in 2016. Beckner said he believed Frank had told him she wouldn’t run next year. Frank says she never said that, and now the two popular Democrats will be running against each other in a contest that could split the party.
It’s much quieter on the Republican side, but there’s lots of interest in the contest as well, ever since longtime former Fox-13 consumer reporter Eric Seidel announced he would run for the Republican nomination for the position.
On the top floor of Bernini’s in Ybor City on Thursday night, Seidel brought forward former Fox-13 colleagues John Wilson and Frank Robertson out to advocate for his candidacy. Both men said his background as a consumer advocate fighting for the people and the fact that he doesn’t have any political baggage make him an ideal candidate for Hillsborough voters.
“He’s such an extraordinary person that my first instinct is to say, ‘Eric, don’t do this!'” Wilson joked to big laughs.
The recently retired anchorman warned Seidel that entering the political process wasn’t for the meek. “They will chew you up and spit you out again if you let them!” he said. “Politics is ugly! It doesn’t get nice from this point on. It gets difficult. It’s going to take a lot of help and a lot of encouragement and a lot of money to make all of this work.”
Frank Robertson, another former WTVT-Fox 13 anchor who left the station in 2009 after 21 seasons on air, said it was “ballsy” for Seidel to enter into the political arena. And he said that voting for the best clerk of the court should have nothing to do with political affiliation.
“It should be about character, integrity and commitment that this man has,” he told the audience of several dozen people who crammed into the Ybor eatery’s top floor. Adding that he had no desire to disparage Frank nor Beckner, he did say that voters should consider it a big plus that Seidel has never held political office.
Seidel said his evolution as a candidate began when he reached out to Facebook friend Deb Tamargo, chair of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, a few months ago. Saying that while he wanted to get engaged in the political process he didn’t want to do anything too partisan, they both agreed that the clerk’s position best suited his talents and experience.
With his high name recognition based on being on local television for almost two decades, Tamargo considers Seidel to be a dream candidate.
“He’s just so well qualified,” she says, referring to Seidel’s background as a lawyer. “When individual candidates call me, I ask them if they have analyzed what the criteria is to be successful in the position that they essentially are applying for. With Eric it was so easy. He does have the requisite experience of the law. In addition, he had thoughts on how the position could be more consumer friendly.”
When asked how comfortable it feels for someone who doesn’t have a history of being involved in partisan politics how it felt to be a vessel for Hillsborough County Republicans, Seidel said it felt fine to him, saying that he’s always considered himself a fiscal conservative.
“I see the job as twofold,” he laid out on Thursday night.
“One is as a CFO. You want to make sure the taxpayers’ money is being well spent and not wasted, so fiscally I’m very conservative about that and that’s what I did on Fox 13, making sure that we didn’t have any boondoggles wasting the taxpayers’ money. The other half of the job is obviously keeping and preserving, the accepting and the giving of legal paperwork. Me as the consumer lawyer, obviously I know exactly what needs to be filed and what needs to be private and all that.”
There is more than a year left before the primary elections in August of 2016. While the Democratic race as it stands now could be a barnburner, it appears that Hillsborough Republicans will be quite pleased if Seidel lays low, raises a bit of money without being challenged, and then prepares to take on either Frank or Beckner next fall.