If the Pinellas County Commission candidates agree on one thing its this: Voters have clear choices come November 2. With election day creeping up, the candidates distinguished themselves on issues such as high-speed rail, the Rays and development Tuesday night at a forum organized by the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce.
To the few dozen in attendance, they framed those choices in different ways.
Former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, the Democratic candidate running against Republican 10-year incumbent Susan Latvala in District 4, tried this election seasons popular outsider mantle on for size, describing himself as a citizen legislator not a politician who would champion fiscal responsibility.
He said he wont fear sticking his neck out on unpopular issues, doing what it takes to keep the Rays and develop high-speed rail. He supports a one-cent tax to fund the latter, saying he doesnt know of any other way to bring the project to fruition.
The forum was informative and at times contentious. In his opening statement, Hackworth accused Latvala of funding her campaign primarily with money from special interests and PACs, and raising taxes during her time on the commission two inaccuracies Latvala denied, saying shes proud of her donors and that she raised taxes only once, on unincorporated areas for infrastructure.
That line of attack is not new for Hackworth. To compliment it and bolster his special interest-free image, he said he accepts a maximum of only $100, from only individual contributors a self-imposed rule he has arguably bent.
Although he distanced himself from the label of politician, Hackworth offered his record as Mayor of Dunedin as proof of the type of fiscal responsibility he would practice as a commission member.
Defending her legacy, Latvala touted her accomplishments with Tampa Bay Water and on education issues and eliminating pill mills. She told the audience shes running for re-election because people need strong, consistent leadership in tough economic times.