In upcoming Pinellas County Commission primaries on Aug. 26, the Tampa Tribune announced on Monday recommendations in two races in November.
An overall Republican winner will be elected in the third Aug. 26 primary since that race drew no Democratic challenger.
Former state legislator Ed Hooper, 66, faces incumbent Norm Roche in the Republican primary to determine who will go up against Democratic Largo Mayor Pat Gerard in the general election. Since the seat is at-large, registered Republicans from the entire county can cast ballots.
Hooper said he is running against Roche, 52, primarily because of Roche’s “misguided” vote against adding fluoride to the county’s water supply.
“I support fluoride,” Hooper told the Tribune.
Both GOP candidates oppose the Greenlight Pinellas transportation plan, which asks voters to approve a penny sales tax to expand bus service and develop a light rail corridor between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
“An improved busing system does make sense,” Roche says. “But a 19th century fixed rail system does not, given our current state of development.”
Hooper questions whether a rail line will work in Pinellas without it being part of a broader rail system. Instead of a sales tax, he suggests modifying the Penny for Pinellas for transportation improvements.
In recommending Hooper, the Tribune notes his background as a state legislator, city commissioner and firefighter, adding that those roles are a good fit for the job of county commissioner.
A large Republican field is looking to succeed retiring council member Susan Latvala in the district covering much of north Pinellas County. The winner will face two No Party Affiliation candidates as well as Democrat Mark Weinkrantz in November.
Dave Eggers, 57, served as a Dunedin city commissioner and as two-term Dunedin mayor. He supports the Greenlight transit initiative and looks to spur economic development Pinellas County.
Wanda Kimsey, 59, is a former assistant to Pinellas County commissioners who seeks to improve communication between residents and administrators. There are transportation problems countywide, but she believes raising the sales tax for decades is not the answer.
Former state Rep. Peter Nehr, 62, is a past Tarpon Springs city commissioner and is a small business owner. He has both local and state government experience. To Nehr, Greenlight is a tax increase that does not make financial sense.
Pediatric dentist Johnny Johnson, 58, wants to give back to his community. Johnson played a leading role in returning fluoride into the water system after the commission voted to stop fluoridation. He believes Greenlight will address the county’s transportation issues. Commissioner Latvala endorses Johnson.
Tim Keffalas, 59, is the owner of a small automotive graphics business and former candidate for the Tarpon Springs City Commission. He will focus on taxpayer money and opposes Greenlight because of the lack of attention to north Pinellas.
Largo firefighter Macho Liberti, 36, offers an alternative to “polished politicians,” saying he better represents the people. He opposes Greenlight because it would do little for north Pinellas.
Former Oldsmar Mayor and City Council member Jim Ronecker, 49, is a printing company president who served on county planning and transportation boards. He feels he will bring both government and business experience to the job. He will vote against Greenlight, and believes the county should pause before making such a broad commitment.
In endorsing Eggers, the Tribune editors believe he is “better positioned to hit the ground running” and supports the transit initiative essential to the county’s future.
Incumbent County Commissioner John Morroni faces business investor Tom Rask for the district running across central Pinellas through the southern beaches. As the race drew no Democratic candidate, the GOP primary vote will determine who will be the next commissioner.
In that case, all registered voters are able to cast ballots in the race.
Morroni, 59, has served since 2000; this would be his fourth term. He supports Greenlight, particularly expanded bus service. He voted against fluoridation to the county’s water but later changed his vote as the commission overturned the decision, saying it proves he is not afraid to learn from mistakes.
Rask, 50, claims to be “tired” of how Morroni votes and says a fourth time in office is not keeping with the term limits supported by most voters.
According to Rask, Greenlight is an excessive tax increase. He sued the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority over the spending on Greenlight. The suit was dismissed. Rask insists he would be an independent voice on the county commission.
For the Pinellas County Commission Republican primary District 6, the Tribune recommends John Morroni. His rethinking of the fluorination issue shows thoughtfulness, and the support of Greenlight is the right direction for Pinellas.