Pat Gerard talks about her priorities for Pinellas Commission

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Not even 24-hours after learning she had just won a six-figure job as a Pinellas County Commissioner, Largo Mayor Pat Gerard was on a plane on her way to Europe for a long-awaited vacation.

Gerard narrowly defeated State Representative Ed Hooper with 51 percent of the vote. Despite an overall Democratic slaughter, the 2014 midterm was a raving success for Gerard. While other Democrats struggled to come even close to raising campaign cash as quickly and massively as their Republican opponents, Gerard came in only $40,000 behind Hooper who had massive party backing from the GOP.

While Democrats are reeling after losing control of the U.S. Senate and handing over a statewide, veto-proof supermajority in the legislature, Gerard’s victory restores a Democratic majority to the county commission that has been missing for 50 years.

It’s one of the few topics Pinellas County Democrats have to smile about. Dwight Dudley managed to hold on to his seat in the Florida House by defeating Bill Young, but Democrats Carl Zimmerman and Mark Danish were ousted by Republican challengers. Greenlight Pinellas, an effort largely backed by Democrats, was murdered and, of course, Rick Scott is going to be Governor for another 4-years.

So, what’s Gerard going to do with this one, savory victory. Well, once she gets her little European vacation out of the way, she plans to help the county build relationships with other municipalities.

“We’ve had an open dialogue between Largo and the county. I think I’ll be able to head off problems by seeing how they’ll impact our local communities,” Gerard wrote in a pre-flight email.

Gerard began her career in public office as a Largo City Commissioner in 2000. She was elected the first female mayor in 2006 and has since been re-elected twice. During that time she helped end years of lawsuits and contention between the city of Largo and the county.

Gerard said she’ll also be focused on bringing quality jobs to the county. Gerard had hoped the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum would be a vehicle for that, but since it failed and failed hard, she’ll have to find other ways to drive economic development and jobs. She should be up for the task though having a long history working with the Chamber of Commerce and local business leaders to create business-friendly environments.

As mayor, Gerard overhauled a permit application process to give small businesses easier access to expanding.

“We brought the chamber and business owners to the table so we could see what areas needed improvement.  I want to enact that same plan at the county level,” Gerard said.

Another focus will be on the county’s parks.

“We have this incredible park system, and there isn’t any other metropolitan area in the country with so many beautiful and unique parks for our families.  I think it’s a huge draw for tourism as well, so I’ll make sure they’re an area we invest in,” Gerard continued.

Once she is sworn in, uber-conservative incumbent Norm Roche will get the boot. Roche was handily defeated by Hooper in the August primary.

Pinellas County, in general, seems to be making a progressive shift to the left unlike the polarized rest of the state the just bled red in Tuesday’s election. Charlie Crist had a solid lead over Rick Scott in Pinellas County. Amendment 2, the medical marijuana measure that got 57 percent of the statewide vote, but failed because it needed 60 percent, would have passed if it were just a county matter. The city of St. Pete has a progressive Democrat mayor and a left-leaning city council with three openly gay members.

Tallahassee may be red, but Gerard makes Pinellas County officially blue.

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.