Tallahassee Democrat – Tallahassee, Fla
June 20, 2010
2010 has been a local-election season like no other, with an anti-establishment, anti-incumbency mood fueling some of the challengers trying to win seats at City Hall and the County Courthouse.
Two outspoken critics of City Hall policies — businessmen Steve Stewart and Erwin Jackson — are making bids to unseat Mayor John Marks and City Commissioner Gil Ziffer.
Three people are challenging County Commissioner Cliff Thaell, and County Commission Chairman Bob Rackleff is facing a challenge by a well-financed candidate, Kristin Dozier. County Commissioner Bill Proctor drew competition from John “Corri” Byrne after comments Proctor made during debate over a gay-rights ordinance.
It’s unclear whether discontent will translate into votes. Lance deHaven-Smith, professor of public administration and policy at Florida State University, said he doesn’t think the national anti-incumbent mood will play much of a role locally.
“People trust local government more, and they know their local officials much better,” he said. “So people with a history of public service will tend to rise to the top. The upside for the challenger is you have a record to attack.”
Some citizens say they are looking for change; others say they will vote for officials with a history of service. J.R. Harding, an advocate for people with disabilities, said he’s satisfied with county commissioners. But he said most city commissioners should be replaced.
“They appear to be a little more entrenched, less approachable and certainly not as sensitive to accommodations and disability issues as their colleagues in the county are,” he said.
Joe Cain, a Tallahassee geophysicist, said he generally supports the incumbents because they have a proven track record.
“The incumbents have been doing a good job, and I think they should be kept,” he said.
James Totter, a retired chemical engineer, said he can’t in good conscience support many incumbents. But he said he has reservations about some of the challengers as well.
“I wish that ‘none of the above’ was a standard choice on the ballot,” he said.
Mayor Marks, who’s seeking a third term, is facing challenger Steve Stewart, a businessman who decided to run for office after Marks and three commissioners voted to raise property taxes 15 percent. Also in the race is Larry Hendricks, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2006 and the City Commission as a write-in candidate in 2008.
Stewart said Marks has been lax in leadership. “I think we need more leadership with the challenges we are going to face,” he said.
But Marks said he has experience on his side. He said he’s been a force behind getting $17 million in federal funds for energy-efficiency programs, securing protections for Wakulla Springs and recruiting Danfoss Turbocor, which makes oil-free compressors for air-conditioning and heating systems.
“My involvement has been more extensive than Steve Stewart’s, and I can relate to all segments of this community in terms of addressing their needs,” Marks said.
Stewart has been hammering Marks over deferred compensation, a retirement benefit approved by commissioners in 2005 that critics said was actually a pay raise, and Marks’ use of a city credit card.
A big issue for Marks, a 62-year-old attorney, and Stewart, a 47-year-old business owner, is the electric utility. Stewart is promising relief from high bills.
Stewart would push for a 20-percent cut in electric rates for six months for all residents. He said the $36 million needed to cut the rates would come from the city’s $95 million electric-operating fund, which is used for natural-gas hedging and electric-utility upgrades.
Marks called Stewart’s proposal “irresponsible.” City staff members have said taking money out of the fund could affect bond ratings.
Marks has been a promoter of the city’s “smart grid,” which he says will allow residents to better control their utility use. He made trips to Washington, D.C., in an effort to get nearly $9 million in federal stimulus money to help pay for the project.
A hot topic for Stewart is government transparency. He created an interactive database on talgovspending.com so citizens can monitor city spending. Marks, however, counters that the city’s budget was already on the city’s website.
Hendricks, who’s self-employed, said he’s running, “Because somebody’s got to. (Marks and Stewart) are both in the hands of the real-estate cartel.”
Hendricks said he would focus on the basics — the health and safety of the community, particularly women, children and people with disabilities.
City Seat 5
Commissioner Gil Ziffer, appointed Aug. 31 to fill the vacancy created by Allan Katz’s resignation, is running against Erwin Jackson, a local property owner and businessman, and James Moran, development officer for the Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy. Ziffer is owner of Ziffer Stansberry advertising and public relations.
Jackson, 59, has lambasted commissioners over everything from deferred compensation to utility rates. He has a fan base among City Hall critics, but most of his campaign contributions have come out of his own pocket.
Ziffer, 57, who voted against last year’s property-tax increase, said his priorities include fiscal management, job growth and neighborhood protection. He wants a freeze on all city fees and licenses.
Tallahassee is a special place that residents want to preserve, Ziffer said. “They also want growth with good-paying jobs that provide opportunities for their children so maybe they can stay.”
Jackson’s priorities include creating jobs and improving fiscal policies. He said he’d reduce or eliminate fees on small businesses and allow more of them to get city contracts. He’d eliminate commissioner and staff expenses from working lunches to some travel.
“We need a city commissioner whose only interest is to represent the best interests of the citizens of this community,” he said.
Moran, 51, who ran unsuccessfully for Seat 3 in 2006, said his priorities include creating jobs and making sure programs are in place to help young people. He’d also reach out to business owners to see how the city can help them.
“Once they’re equipped with whatever their needs are, I’m sure that will open the floodgates for greater opportunities of employment,” he said.
City Seat 3
Three candidates are running for the seat left open by Commissioner Debbie Lightsey’s upcoming retirement: Stephen Hogge, an attorney and three-time president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations; Nancy Miller, planning commissioner and a founder of the Blueprint 2000 plan; and Bill Rollins, a retiree who has run unsuccessfully for tax collector and the County Commission.
Hogge, 49, said he would do more with less money and encourage more citizen involvement. He’d focus on neighborhood issues, from crime prevention to code enforcement. His background includes working about 18 years for the Florida House of Representatives and helping found Sustainable Tallahassee.
“I just think I’m someone that has the know-how from those experiences to get things done,” he said.
Miller, 61, said she’d create a business-assistance center, which would pair university interns with businesses, and hire an ombudsman to help businesses navigate permitting. She said her experience owning a retail store and a consulting business and her degrees in planning and biology set her apart.
“I bring a different perspective to the table than any of the sitting commissioners or any of the people who are running,” she said.
Rollins, 62, said he would cut utility rates at least 15 percent for people earning less than 150 percent of the poverty level; 10 percent for small businesses; and 5 percent for everyone else.
“We need elected officials that come with a creative vision for bringing jobs and implementing policy that will enable small businesses to expand,” he said.
County Commissioner Cliff Thaell is trying to win a fifth term against three opponents: Nick Maddox, a former Florida State University football player and vice president of development for the Bowden Foundation; Rick Malphurs, owner of C.J. Malphurs Septic Service; and Scott Matteo, a civil engineer with DEC Engineering.
Thaell, 63, said he would find ways to save money without hurting services. But he would not rule out budget cuts and even layoffs. He would continue to speed up construction projects to boost employment. He said proven leadership is needed now more than ever with the recession and Gulf oil spill.
“It’s not a time to put someone in office who needs on-the-job training,” he said.
Maddox, 29, said he’d invest in community projects — including parks and the proposed performing-arts center — to attract outside industry. He wants to give tax and fee breaks to businesses.
“I believe if we put more money into the hands of our small businesses, they’ll take on more employees, and they will help us continue to have the low unemployment rate that we’ve enjoyed in the past,” he said.
Malphurs, 29, a self-described “regular guy,” said he’d create a citizen’s utility board so residents can have a voice in the operation of their utilities. He wants to cut taxes and fees and hold regular town-hall meetings.
“My goal as a county commissioner would be to rein in the government spending while also making sure the community is engaged as much as possible,” he said.
Matteo, 55, said he’d cut unnecessary programs and stop paying travel expenses for officials. He said environmental protection is being diluted by developers who contribute to commissioners, and he’s limiting his contributions from the $500 limit to $200.
“I don’t intend to be influenced by the special interests,” said Matteo, who’s serving his second term on the Ochlockonee River Soil and Water Conservation District. “I want government by the people.”
County District 1
Commissioner Bill Proctor, first elected in 1996, is running against John “Corri” Byrne, who helped develop the All Saints neighborhood. Byrne, who’s white, is trying to win in a district in which about two-thirds of registered voters are black. But Byrne, 44, believes he has a shot.
“I don’t think it comes down to black or white,” he said.
One of Proctor’s priorities is to get sewer service for southern Leon County. Byrne said he supports the use of septic tanks as long as they are “serviceable, safe and clean.”
Proctor also wants to continue trying to redevelop the current North Florida Fairgrounds site and move the fairgrounds elsewhere. He said his district is often the victim of “economic exploitation.”
“For some reason, people see the south side as a place you are supposed to exploit and pimp,” said Proctor, 51, who wants to create a “south side council” to address issues.
Byrne said Proctor “missed an opportunity to be a leader for civil rights” during the debate over gay rights. Proctor spoke out against the proposal early on but ultimately voted in favor of it.
County District 5
County Commission Chairman Bob Rackleff, running for a fourth term, is facing challenges by Kristin Dozier, vice president of Mad Dog Construction; and David Ward, a retired Tallahassee firefighter and project manager for Allen’s Excavation.
Rackleff, 66, said he’d focus on economic development and quality-of-life issues. He said he favors helping local business grow over enticing out-of-town businesses through incentives. As new treasurer of the Innovation Park board, he wants to reinvent it as a center of research and economic development by strengthening ties to the universities.
“In order to compete, we have to provide a superior quality of life so people will want to stay here and people will want to come here,” he said.
Dozier, 34, said her top priority is building a “sustainable community” through a balanced approach that fosters economic development and environmental protection. She said immediate action must be taken to diversify the job base through existing assets, including the universities.
“I’m running because I think we need a new perspective — a new voice on the County Commission — and I don’t believe Bob is getting the job done,” she said.
Ward, 59, said his top priority is keeping a lid on high taxes and fees, which he said has a negative impact on economic growth. He said he’d eliminate wasteful spending by requiring departments to justify budget requests. He’d end county contributions to nonprofits.
“I think I can balance the budget by controlling waste,” he said.
Election 2010 information
* The primary election is Aug. 24. Early voting is Aug. 9-13 and Aug. 15-21 at the Woodville Community Center, 8000 Old Woodville Road (10 a.m.-6 p.m.); Fort Braden library, 16327 Blountstown Highway (10 a.m.-6 p.m.); Northeast library, 5513 Thomasville Road (10 a.m.-6 p.m.); County Courthouse, 301 S. Monroe St. (8 a.m.-4 p.m.).
* The general election is Nov. 2. Early voting is Oct. 18-22 and Oct. 24-30. Times and locations are the same as above.
* Find your assigned precinct at www.LeonVotes.org. Vote at your precinct between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on election days.
* Remember to bring your photo ID with signature when you go to vote.
* The deadline to register to vote is July 26 for the primary election and Oct. 4 for the general election.
* You can register to vote several different ways. You can go to the Supervisor of Elections Office, 315 S. Calhoun St.; go to www.LeonVotes.org, download a form and mail it to P.O. Box 7357, Tallahassee FL, 32314 (must be postmarked by the registration deadline); Go to a public library or participating banks, driver’s license offices, schools and universities. Call 606-VOTE (8683) for more information.
* Request an absentee ballot by calling 606-VOTE (8683) or submit a form at www.LeonVotes.org to vote by mail
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