LARGO - The "Stanton Ticket" swept to victory in Largo's municipal election Tuesday as about 14 percent of the city's voters set the tone for what probably will be higher taxes in the future.
Largo elected Pat Gerard as its first woman mayor and Rodney Woods as the first African-American to be a member of the City Commission.
The voting saw the possible end of a 31-year political career in the city for Mayor Bob Jackson and Commissioner Jean Halvorsen lost to Gigi Arntzen, ending 21 years of service to the city.
With the loss of these veterans, Largo's commission has very little institutional experience and knowledge, the most experienced member of the commission now being Mary Black.
Counting at the Supervisor of Elections was stalled by a computer breakdown when 21 of the city's 38 precincts had been counted.
The problem was fixed about 10:20 and Nancy Whitlock reported that counting had resumed. Within 15 minutes the results were compiled.
The voting, in which Woods was the biggest vote getter, betokens a sea change in Largo politics. Voters rejected the conservative fiscal policy of Jackson and will now see perhaps a shift to liberal taxing.
City Manager Steve Stanton now reigns unchallenged as ruler of the city, fulfilling the appellation as "the best politician in Largo."
With Gerard, Arntzen and Woods in office Stanton's position is secure and there will probably be little restraint on him. Thus a non-elected official will be running the city.
Woods swamped Ernie Bach, 4,154 to 1,929. Arntzen had a 389 edge over Halvorsen with 3,274 votes to 2,885.
The Jackson-Gerard race was very close, Gerard nipping the incumbent by 171 votes - 2.7 percent of those cast.
There was general agreement that this was the most nasty campaign in Largo political history. It continued right down to the wire.
Woods was upbraided by a witness who saw him removing his rival's sign near a voting place. "I have no respect for anyone who would do that," the witness said. "I have no respect for you," Woods retorted. The witness was Bob Jackson, and this incident encapsulated the tenor of at least two of the campaigns, and is an example of the attitude that Largo residents now have on their commission.
Gerard turned the heat up high in the last hours of the campaign with a controversial message that went out on a telephone recording rolling through Largo precincts.
In the message, she said that voters had received a "nasty and untrue" mailing about her that was backed by "millionaire Fred Thomas, hiding behind a group called "Friends of Largo" and was "payback for Jackson's backing" of a Thomas business venture.
The exact words of the message in describing Thomas's business are not being used here for fear that they may be defamatory.
Gerard's message was followed Tuesday by two more slashing attacks on Jackson and Thomas, warning Thomas that Largo was "not for sale."
Bach set off a firestorm of racist accusations against him late in the campaign when he asserted that a local tabloid lightened a published photograph of Woods.
Pinellas County's only daily newspaper, which had previously targeted Bach in the campaign, jumped on this juicy morsel and chewed it until the flavor was gone. In all its reporting, however, the Big Paper failed to point out that the Largo Leader is owned by the St. Petersburg Times.
Bach made a profuse apology for any implications of racism, claiming that his record bespeaks conduct to the contrary.
While the Jackson-Gerard and Bach-Woods campaigns were bitter, nasty and hard fought, the contest between Halvorsen, trying to keep her seat for an eighth term, and Arntzen didn't show the intensity of the other two.
But a questionable situation arose with the treatment of Halvorsen by the city, which levied a fine on her for allegedly filing late a campaign report due March 3.
The assessment, reportedly, was $500 a day. Most observers understanding of the law is that there is a $50 per day assessment in city elections and the $500 penalty is reserved for general elections.
This question has come up before. Who approved the fine and the details surrounding it are being looked into. It will be interesting to see where the idea for it originated.
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