Get smart fast: Meet the candidates running for District 4 seat on the Pinellas Commission

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Republicans will take to the polls Tuesday to narrow a large field of candidates for Pinellas County Commission. There are 10 people running to replace Susan Latvala in her North County district. Seven of them are Republicans. Here’s a breakdown of the candidates.

Dave Eggers – Eggers is the current mayor of Dunedin. Win or lose, he vacates that seat because of his commission bid on November 4. Eggers’ primary campaign focus is jobs.

“Unemployment might be at 6%, but there’s a lot of people that have taken themselves out of the market,” Eggers said. He suggested several ways to bring more high-wage jobs to the county including cutting red tape, working with other municipalities both in and out of the county and consider the needs of individual districts.

Greenlight Pinellas – Eggers was an initial naysayer on the transit referendum. As a conservative, he feared putting a tax increase before voters. He initially suggested proposing a half penny sales tax increase instead of the full penny that will appear on the November 4 ballot. However, he recognizes the need for changes to the county’s public transportation and will vote for the referendum even though he’s not sold on the viability of rail in Pinellas.

Endorsements – Eggers said he hasn’t actively sought endorsements, but is supported by both the St. Petersburg Tribune and the Tampa Bay Times as well as Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Campaign contributions to date – $41,895

Johnny Johnson – Johnson is the top fundraiser in this race. He’s also endorsed by the incumbent, Susan Latvala. Johnson is a former dentist who was forced into retirement after suffering a wrist injury in a bicycling accident that left him unable to work on patients. He is backed by a large contingency of dentists. He’s focused on what he calls “smart redevelopment” to boost jobs and broaden the tax base, which would allow the county to reduce the tax burden on residents and fund increased services and updated infrastructure.

Greenlight Pinellas – Johnson is in favor of the transit referendum despite party opposition. He says it will create solid economic development and attract prospective employers. His endorsement by Susan Latvala was based in part on his support of transit improvements.

Endorsements – Susan Latvala, the Pinellas Realtor Association, school board member Peggy O’Shea, public defender Bob Dillinger, state attorney Bernie McCabe and a slew of dentists.

Campaign contributions to date – $103,614.98

Tim Keffalas – Keffalas owns a small automotive graphics business and former candidate for Tarpon Springs City Commission. He prides himself on having a near win in that race. Kefalas hasn’t brought in much in the way of campaign contributions and it was intentional. He says he prides himself on not being bought by special interests – something he says all of his opponents and most of the current county commission are guilty of. He doesn’t see it as a handicap, however.

“You could ask Eric Cantor about that,” Keffalas said.

Keffalas considers himself a true conservative and wants to ensure government in the county doesn’t get too big.

Greenlight Pinellas – Keffalas is opposed to the plan. He thinks the campaign has misled voters by calling it a tax swap. The plan would raise sales tax in the county from 7% to 8%, but eliminate the portion of property taxes homeowners currently pay for public transportation. He argues it’s not a swap because the new revenue stream would bring in $100 million more. Instead, Keffalas suggests the PSTA should streamline bus routes and get rid of ones that are under-utilized.

Endorsements – Keffalas has intentionally not sought endorsements

Campaign contributions to date – $3,046.20 (Keffalas says he plans to return at least one check because he doesn’t like the source, but would not say who it was from or how much it was for.)

Wanda Kimsey – Kimsey is a former Pinellas County government employee. She worked with county staff to build agendas for commission meetings and prepared packets for commissioners to reference agenda items. Kimsey thinks that gives her a professional edge over her opponents because she has an intimate knowledge of how the process works. Kimsey’s priority is building better communication between residents and commissioners by hosting “chats with Wanda” in the community.

Greenlight Pinellas – Kimsey opposes the referendum. She believes residents don’t want it, saying that of all the doors she’s knocked on while campaigning, almost no one has supported the plan. However, Kimsey says if it passes she will work diligently to make sure it’s successful. If it is unsuccessful, she wants to start engaging the community in January to figure out how to revive PSTA before it becomes insolvent in 2017.

Endorsements – former Pinellas County Administrator Fred Marquis, former Pinellas County Commissioner Bob Stewart and Tarpon Springs City Commissioner David Banther

Campaign contributions to date – $18,277.71

Macho Liberti – As a firefighter, one of Liberti’s priorities is to ensure the county’s EMS funding is maintained and that public safety be made a priority. As of right now, the county is poised to cut back the amount of money it pays fire departments for first responder service. Liberti thinks that plan needs to be abandoned. He believes the contract with Sunstar to transport patients should be cut and those responsibilities consolidated with fire services. Liberti also wants to see a greater commitment to supporting small businesses. He criticizes the tendencies of local governments to incentivize big box stores, but not smaller ones.

Greenlight Pinellas – Liberti does not support Greenlight Pinellas “in its current draft” because it doesn’t provide enough benefit to the district he would be representing. He also fears a tax increase could discourage tourists from visiting the county. However, if the referendum passes Liberti says he would work to improve the plan and ensure that projects stay within budget. His website provides links to both Greenlight Pinellas and its opposition, No Tax for Tracks. He also asks voters to take a survey about the transit plan.

Endorsements – Largo City Commissioner Curtis Holmes and James Robinson, Pinellas County Republican Liberty Caucus, South Pinellas 912 Patriots, Florida Professional Firefighters and Firefighters Associations for Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Oldsmar, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Largo, Indian Rocks, Seminole, Pinellas Park, St. Pete and St. Pete Beach.

Campaign contributions to date – $11,437.50

Peter Nehr – Nehr is taking the most extreme conservative stance of all the Republicans in this race. He’s criticized Johnny Johnson for supporting the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum and for campaigning for Democrats Janet Long and Charlie Justice in their successful bids for county commission.

Greenlight Pinellas – Nehr’s answer to the question was a stern “absolutely not.” He says he will represent the people of North County, whom he claims have absolutely no need for passenger rail. Instead, Nehr wants the bus routes “cleaned up” and for the PSTA to live within its means.

Endorsements – none listed

Campaign contributions to date – $59,250

Jim Ronecker – Ronecker is the former mayor of Oldsmar. He’s focused on improving quality-of-life issues for residents. He believes the economy is rebounding and property values are on the rise and that increased revenue should be used to reinvest. He’d like to see that in five high-risk areas identified by the city, including South St. Pete, Lealman and East Tarpon Springs. He also wants to see more investment in county parks.

Greenlight Pinellas – Ronecker is opposed to the plan, but could change his mind. He thinks the referendum should have been put off until a more regional approach could be secured and collaboration with other counties established. This, he wrote in an email, would open more opportunities for state and federal grants. Ronecker is concerned the plan will not adequately fund all of the plans and that further tax increases could be possible.

Endorsements – there are no endorsements listed on his website

Campaign contributions to date – $21,115

The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Mark Weinkrantz as well as Carl Folkman and Marcus Harrison, who have no party affiliation. Only voters in District 4 who are registered Republicans will vote in this race. The primary is Tuesday.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.