Local politicians enjoy state clout

Published July 5, 2006

PINELLAS POWER: Last week, Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala was sworn in as president of the Florida Association of Counties. In August, if no last minute contenders make a bid, St. Petersburg City Council member Rene Flowers will become president of the Florida League of Cities.

Both will serve a one-year term.

That will put Pinellas officials at the head of the state's two most important local government interest groups. They join School Board member Jane Gallucci, who since April has enjoyed an even bigger platform as head of the National School Boards Association.

For too long, Latvala said the association has been overly focused on victories during the annual session of the state Legislature. While continuing to oppose measures that could cost counties money and power, Latvala said she also wanted to emphasize education and leadership training for county commissioners.

"It was just all about the session and fighting for things," Latvala said. "I want to help commissioners be better commissioners."

As head of the league, Flowers said she plans to lead a statewide initiative to focus legislative attention on the need for more affordable housing.

Counties and cities are often at odds in Tallahassee. Latvala and Flowers plan to meet and discuss areas where their respective groups can cooperate.

"There ought to be something we can do together and make a big impact," Latvala said.

A CHOICE FOR DEMS: Two men are in the running to become chair of the Pinellas Democratic Party, whose current head, Carrie Wadlinger, is stepping down early.

Former St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Ed Helm represents the party's progressive faction; and former chair Tom Steck, the party's more moderate members.

Division between the two camps has roiled the local party in recent years.

Steck said if elected, he would try to end the schism.

"I'm told I will be a stabilizing influence," Steck said. "I want to try to unify the party."

Helm was not immediately available for comment. The vote takes place July 25.

SCOTT OUT: Sean Scott, the Republican elder affairs lawyer running for House District 52, has pulled out of the crowded race because of family obligations.

"We decided it was best for our family not to go forward at this time," said Scott, who is married and has two children, 7 and 12.

"We have two young kids who were not going to like the election process very much with the time commitment, and it was one of those decisions, a very difficult decision, where priorities had to be made and the priority was the family. For that reason, we decided to postpone this to another election cycle."

Scott, a 41-year-old Shore Acres resident, had begun holding community coffees with coffee heated by a solar-power generator for his campaign. His departure whittles the field to five candidates, including two Democrats, political consultant Liz McCallum and former University of South Florida St. Petersburg dean Bill Heller; and three Republicans, orthodontics office manager Sandie Curran, bank trust officer Angelo Cappelli and Realtor Ross Johnson.

The district includes parts of Clearwater and Largo, unincorporated Pinellas County and north St. Petersburg.

Times writers Leonora LaPeter, Adam C. Smith and Will Van Sant contributed to this week's Junkie. For more political buzz, go to www.sptimes.com/blogs/buzz. Writers can be contacted at politicaljunkie@sptimes.com.