Five Contenders Aim for One Gulfport Council Seat
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03/09/10 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

Today several Pinellas beaches hare holding municipal elections. Towns like Treasure Island and Indian Shores had commission or council seats go to unopposed candidates. Others, like Indian Rocks Beach and Gulfport, had multiple candidates vying for the same seat. Gulfport has five candidates in the running for its Ward One commission seat, including the incumbent, Judy Ryerson. Ryerson, who is finishing her first term, said she isn’t sure why so she has much competition when Gulfport’s other open seat went without contest.

Stanley Solomons, one of Ryerson’s opponents, said that this level of interest may reflect dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Gulfport is a small waterfront town that is at once a sleepy retirement community and a vibrant arts hub. It is home to towering condos and colorful old Florida bungalows. Its sprawling marina sits next to an ailing swath of wetlands, called Clam Bayou. Resident and activist Al Davis said that this and the economy were key issues this election year.

While environment and economy have in recent years been dominant issues in both landlocked and waterfront cities, a perennial issue often unique to seaside communities is building height. Candidate Roz Barbieri said that when she knocked on many of her prospective constituents’ doors, the issue came up more than once.

Gulfport has a population of about twelve thousand, three-hundred. And with small town elections come small-town politics. And while on Election Day, the candidates mingled cordially among the precincts and spoke highly of each other, there were times when campaigns went negative. Candidate David Hastings reportedly had more than fifty of his signs stolen from supporter yards. He said that for a position that doesn’t pay, such a level of contention was surprising.

We were unable to reach the only other candidate, David Steinke, by airtime. Polls are open in all four wards in Gulfport and across Pinellas until 7pm. Nancy Whitlock, Communications Director at the Pinellas Elections Office, says that as of 2pm, there was about a four percent turnout, which doesn’t include mail-in results.

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