tampabay.com

Tax relief the focus for next year's slew

By WILL VAN SANT
Published October 4, 2006


The first of what could be a deluge of candidates compelled to seek office by what they see as local government's indifference to rising taxes has emerged.

Business owners and Clearwater residents Charles Orsatti, Ken Humphreys and Paul Gibson attended many of the recent heated budget hearings held by Pinellas County, the county School Board and city of Clearwater.

Out to cut what they view as excessive spending and provide property tax relief, the trio say they will run for seats on the Clearwater City Council in next year's municipal elections.

"We share a common view," said Gibson, a Realtor. "And this is our solution."

DEMS PUSH FOR MAJORITY STATUS: For several years, Pinellas County Democrats have been making gains in voter registration. Today, they trail the local GOP by fewer than 5,000 registered voters.

With that in mind, Democrats have embarked on a drive to close the gap and become the county's majority party by Tuesday, which is the final day to register before the Nov. 7 election.

Frank Lupo, who directs the party's campaign planning efforts, said the goal may not be achieved, but that progress is being made. In the past few weeks, Lupo said the party had registered 228 new Democratic voters.

"We are going in the right direction," he said. "We're not losing ground, we are gaining ground."

But GOP party chairman Tony DiMatteo says more important than registration numbers is getting people to the polls. And unlike the local Democrats, who have lacked leadership stability, DiMatteo said his party has years of experience as an election-day machine.

"The crux of the matter is, can you get your base out to vote?" he said. "And that's what the ground game is all about. That's what matters."

REAL UNITY: The Pinellas Democratic Party is an unlikely place to find folks playing nice, especially former opponents.

But at a party meeting last week, former District 53 candidate Charlie Gerdes did something to undermine that image. Gerdes noticed that behind the speaker's table was an array of signs touting the candidacies of Democratic primary victors, but missing was a sign for the man who beat him, Rick Kriseman.

So Gerdes grabbed a Kriseman sign off a side wall and affixed it to a column near the front of the room.

"It was just something that I realized, and I want to help Rick get elected," Gerdes said. "His sign needed to be up there."

BUSANSKY POUNCES: Phyllis Busansky, who is running against Gus Bilirakis for Florida's 9th Congressional District seat, has joined the chorus of Democrats who are calling for an investigation of the House leadership in the wake of Rep. Mark Foley's resignation.

And she has called on her opponent, Bilirakis, to sever his ties to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and others being implicated in the scandal and join her in calling for an investigation.

Will Van Sant wrote this week's Junkie. For more political buzz, go to www.sptimes.com/blogs/buzz. Staff can be reached at politicaljunkie@sptimes.com.