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Price of Seminole politics proves debateable

Some candidates rely on more cash to get their messages out to the growing city, while others stick closer to the grass roots.

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003


SEMINOLE -- Just how much money does a candidate need to run a political campaign in Seminole? It depends on whom you ask.

Patricia Hartstein, who is seeking her fifth term on the City Council, downplays the importance of campaign contributions. She says she counts on canvassing neighborhoods to win elections.

"I still believe in that grass roots effort," said Hartstein, who listed $400, which includes $250 of her own money, in her campaign treasury report that ended Feb. 7. Her paperwork also shows she spent $73 on filing fees.

Jimmy Johnson, a first-time candidate, says he also believes in door-to-door campaigns. But, he adds, Seminole is a different place today than it was just a few years ago.

"Seminole is growing," he said. "We have a lot more area to cover."

Johnson says he's paying a consulting group to run his campaign. "You have to go into mass marketing so you can reach everybody," he said.

As of Feb. 7, Johnson had raised $4,995 for his campaign. He donated $1,000. Many of his contributions are from local businesses, some belonging to the Greater Seminole Area Chamber of Commerce. Johnson is the chamber's executive director.

In the past three years, Seminole has doubled its population and size through annexations. In 2000, about 9,000 residents lived in 2.1 square miles. Today, 18,700 residents live in a city that covers nearly 5 square miles. Seminole is the fifth-largest municipality in Pinellas County.

And with the city's annexation plans, more people will be calling Seminole home. City officials eventually want Seminole to cover 12.5 square miles and to contain 50,000 to 60,000 residents.

Has the time come for political campaigns in Seminole to reach a higher level?

Council member Janet Long thought so last year when she ran for office. She also hired a consulting firm and collected more contributions than her four opponents.

"Obviously, I felt the need to make myself known," she said.

Long says she was well-known by a certain group, but she couldn't assume everyone in Seminole knew who she was. "It's important that you get your message out," she said. "With nearly 20,000 people, I don't know how you cannot do a mailing, how you cannot put up signs."

Pete Bengston, who is running for his second term, says he doesn't need a professional consultant to manage his campaign. His treasurer's report listed $730 in contributions and $629 in expenses, which paid for filing fees, campaign cards and political signs.

Simon Montag, a newcomer to politics, said he didn't plan on spending a lot of money on his first campaign. "I could put more into it if I really wanted to," he said. "If I don't make it this year, I will be here next year and I will spend more money."

Montag's report shows he donated $300 of his own money to his campaign account. He spent $105.

Henry Biernack, another first-time candidate, donated $1,000 of his own money to his account. He spent about half of that on campaign signs.

John Counts, who lost his bid for office last year, listed $353 in his report. He'd spent nearly all of that amount.

"I don't believe the city warrants spending large amounts of money to get votes," he said. "It's still a small enough community."

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