LARGO - Mayor Bob Jackson, in a commanding and strong performance, rebutted the sniping of his opponent, Pat Gerard, at a candidates forum Monday night sponsored by the Republican Club of Largo at East Bay Golf Club.
Their scrimmage created the only sparks that also brought together Ernie Bach and Rodney Woods, contending for seat 3 on the Largo commission, and incumbent Jean Halvorsen and Gigi Arntzen, vying for seat 4.
Former Commissioner Charlie Harper was interlocutor for the forum.
An overriding question, unasked in the public print until now, is why Gerard, currently the occupant of seat 3 on the commission, has not resigned to run her race in challenging Jackson for mayor.
Three years ago, Marty Shelby, a sitting commissioner, was required by law to resign 90 days in advance of the election to mount what turned out to be an unsuccessful challenge to Jackson.
The law does not seem to apply to Gerard who has kept her seat on the commission while waging her campaign.
"Tell a lie often enough and it becomes believed," Jackson said in shooting down Gerard's assertion that in voting to avoid a tax increase last year Jackson put the city in a position of taking money from its reserve.
"Not so," Jackson said in confident and commanding tones. "No funds came from the reserve. The rollback worked."
Jackson had been a significant vote in choosing to go with the rollback rate which did not raise taxes, even by increased valuation.
So Gerard has found herself in the ironic position of criticizing her opponent for avoiding a tax increase and put herself in the position of making a virtue of raising taxes.
When the commission voted not to raise taxes, the city administration came out the next day with a list of cuts that would have to be made. This turned out to be bogus, because many of the listed cuts were funded by outside sources.
There was little clash Monday night between the other candidates; instead, there was a surprising amount of agreement at the dinner that brought out about 50 people, many of them candidates for seats in the Florida House.
One ironic note is that this Republican sponsored forum featured "give away the store liberals" like Gerard and Woods.
Monday night's forum was the second in such events. One was held February 14 at the same site by the Chamber of Commerce at a lunch that cost $15 a head.
The chamber has been in bed with the city for years and is invariably given the advantage each election season in regard to forums, debates or whatever.
At a membership luncheon, obviously the public is excluded.
Monday night's proceedings took place at a $17 a plate dinner, again putting the event out of reach of the general citizenry that might be interested in what candidates had to say.
Those who follow election campaigns closely often like to listen and observe candidates over a period of time to improve their knowledge about candidates or detect inconsistencies in candidates' positions.
Apparently the Chamber of Commerce sponsored candidates night at the Largo City Hall tonight at 6:30, which will be televised, may be the one clear chance for Largo voters to see and hear candidates without coughing up long green for a lunch or dinner.
But unless a voter makes it to City Hall tonight or has cable television (many of the residents of the city lack cable service) he or she will be SOL, as the expression goes.
Another opportunity to hear candidates, originally scheduled at the Largo Public Library for Saturday by the Largo Civic Association was scrubbed by the association because the "Stanton ticket" - candidates Gerard, Arntzen and Woods - rejected invitations to appear.
Gerard, Arntzen and Woods are seen as supporters of City Manager Steve Stanton and their election (unlikely, in most experts opinion) will boost his chances of keeping his job.
Apparently the Largo Civic Association is not in good odor with certain parties and this has been made clear from the beginning when the LCA sought to join in arranging candidate forums. Its efforts were spurned.
The City Commission put the official imprimatur on the Chamber of Commerce's role in the candidate forums, although many observers wonder why the city government takes this kind of role in an election.
Opponents of the "Stanton ticket" - Jackson and Halvorsen, both incumbents of long and rich experience on the commission, and Ernie Bach, a former commissioner - may give Stanton a rough road to travel if they are elected.
This election year, even more so than in recent other years, has pointed up the intense struggle for power in City Hall. While a lot of political scientists believe appointed officials of a city should keep a long distance from electoral affairs, such is not the case in Largo these days, according to inside sources.
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