LARGO - For the first time in several encounters leading to Largo's election next Tuesday, Pat Gerard, trying to unseat Bob Jackson as mayor, seemed to drop her "nervous wreck" demeanor at last Thursday's forum at City Hall.
Her nervousness is understandable. Gerard is carrying a lot of baggage - a pending Florida Ethics Commission complaint that will get some action tomorrow, another complaint to the Florida Elections Commission, and the memory of her violations of the city's election laws last year still fresh in many voters' minds.
Jackson, meanwhile, continued his masterful and commanding performance last Thursday, relying on his solid six years of experience as mayor and a long career of service to the city.
While Jackson stressed that service in the forum, Gerard haltingly pointed out her employment with Family Resources, Inc. It is that relationship that led to the ethics complaint brought against her. She voted as a member of the commission on an issue that would have benefited her employer.
Amusingly, Gerard has apparently jumped ahead in time because some of her campaign literature, which features a re-touched photograph, proclaims "Pat Gerard Mayor of Largo" in large letters.
Florida election law requires that candidates who are not incumbents must have the word "for" appear before the office they seek. This requirement is there obviously to prevent confusion on the part of the electorate.
Gerard is not mayor and the missing "for" is the subject of the complaint to the Elections Commission.
At the forum, Jackson mentioned the unlawful literature and implored Gerard to remove it from public view. He said that his requests to the City Clerk, who is in charge of the city election, were ignored.
In the other races, Ernie Bach is seeking to fill Gerard's vacated seat on the commission, and he pointed out at last week's forum his previous experience on the commission and his long involvement as a consumer advocate.
His opponent, Rodney Woods, who is brand new to Largo, had a very thin record to present. Literally nothing is known about Woods and his chief claim to fame has been to promote a memorial in the city to Martin Luther King.
While Bach gravely addressed the issues presented for his answers at the forum, Woods tap danced his way through the performance with what he evidently perceived to be clever jokes and winning ways.
While the soothsayers (who are often wrong) see Jackson, with his enormous amount of experience in city and county matters and commanding demeanor, a strong winner over Gerard, and Bach, with a strong record of public service, defeating Woods, who is seen pretty much as a flea flicker, the race between Jean Halvorsen and Gigi Arntzen may be the hardest contest in which to pick a winner.
Halvorsen has been a steady performer on the City Commission over more than two decades and is fighting to keep her seat against Arntzen who offers a strong challenge. Arntzen, a loser to Mary Black last year, has been involved in city politics for years and makes a strong appearance.
While Gerard bemoaned the contention between the city and county and with citizens who have complained about annexation tactics, Jackson was quick to correctly point out that these factors came about through staff performance.
Thus, he emphasized, the commission has got to be able to exercise strong direction to the city manager. In outlining this, Jackson defined the real issue in this election campaign. It is one of power.
Steve Stanton, the city manager, exercises pretty much of a free hand because, as the smartest and best politician in Largo, he has enough votes on the commission in his pocket to run the show as he likes.
That performance, overall, has been good, but there are many observers who think elected officials should hold the commanding position.
As a result of that dynamic, Gerard, Arntzen and Woods have emerged what has become tabbed as the "Stanton ticket." With those three in office, Stanton will reign supreme.
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