Will the Tampa Bay Times still endorse Janet Long for Pinellas County Commission?

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If you had asked any casual observer of Pinellas politics a week ago whether the Tampa Bay Times would endorse Democrat Janet Long over incumbent Republican Neil Brickfield for the Pinellas County Commision, the answer would have been an unequivocal, “Fluoride!”

That’s right, not “Yes,” but “Fluoride!”

Because the decision by Brickfield and three other members of the County Commission — the ‘Fluoride Four’ is what the Times editorial board has dubbed them — to remove fluoride from the county’s drinking water has become a near-singular obsession for Tim Nickens, Joni James and the rest of the editorial board.

Not that their obsession is misplaced. As a memo on the county health department’s website reads, “Water fluoridation continues to be the most cost-effective, practical and safe means for reducing and controlling the occurrence of tooth decay.”

Brickfield’s vote to stop putting fluoride in the drinking water and, subsequently, jeopardize the health of thousands of Pinellas residents all but ended any hope the first-termer had at receiving the Times‘ recommendation. Not that a Republican running countywide against an outspoken progressive like Long had much of a chance of receiving in the first place.

Still, Brickfield was endorsed the first time he ran. He has enjoyed relatively good press, especially during the time reporter David DeCamp was covering county government. And, most important, the editorial board has made it a point to endorse, err, recommend the occasional Republican candidate, if for nothing else, appearances’ sake. Let’s not forget, the ed board, in 2009, recommended arch-conservative Bill Foster over Democrat Kathleen Ford for St. Petersburg Mayor.

But, again, Brickfield’s vote on the fluoride issue all but ended any consideration he might have received.

That was, until last week.

That was, until Long committed political suicide by saying that firefighters have taken advantage of 9/11 for their own gain.

Never before in my observation of local politics have I seen a reaction as viscerally angry as the one towards Long about this issue.

Of the 549 comments posted on TampaBay.com — the most I cna remember for a local political story — they’re almost almost completely negative. Over 494 people have joined an anti-Long page on Facebook.

It’s increasingly apparent that this race is no longer about whether Long can win, but whether she can preserve her reputation in the community.

That is why it will be vvveeerrryyy interesting to see whether the Times actually endorses Long after what she said to them during her interview.

Does the need for fluoride in the county’s drinking water supersede showing basic respect for first-responders? As it is, the answer is likely ‘yes.’

But will the Times all but waste the power of its endorsement by backing Long in the face of overwhelming, cross-partisan opposition?

Or will the Times endorsement, in enough voters’ minds, absolve Long of her sins?

It’s very doubtful the editorial board will endorse Brickfield, but in light of Long’s comments, shouldn’t it be considering not recommending either candidate?

That’s the plan of action I would endorse.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.