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King, Stanton dog city races

Those may not be the only issues Largo City Commission candidates face, but they figure in.

By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published August 31, 2007


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LARGO - Two issues are likely to play a role in Largo's upcoming election: the firing of former City Manager Steve Stanton and a proposal to build a memorial to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

The Nov. 6 race will pit long-standing commissioner and Vice Mayor Harriet Crozier, against a new rival, John Mandujano.

Another race will feature two political newcomers, Curtis Holmes and Woody Brown, vying for the seat being vacated by Commissioner Gay Gentry when her term expires in November.

Mandujano, a computer consultant who moved to Largo about five years ago, has kicked off an aggressive campaign against Crozier, who has served on the commission for 13 years.

He said he was motivated to join the race because of Stanton's firing, which he called "discriminatory."

But Crozier said she's not going to make Stanton a campaign issue.

"We've moved on," she said.

On his campaign Web site, Mandujano criticized various choices made by Crozier, including her support of an investigation of who knew what when about Stanton's decision to become a woman.

He called the move for an investigation an "attempt to hijack the Largo city government."

Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats later declined to investigate the matter, stating that allegations appeared to be political.

Mandujano also criticized Crozier's choice to support a tentative property tax rate higher than state mandates.

Crozier, who said she hopes to lower the tax rate to the state mandated rate, said Mandujano is choosing to attack her because he lacks experience and doesn't understand the process.

He may have some credibility, she said, "if he had sat on a whole bunch of boards and prepared himself for this but he hasn't. I think that's why he's making comments without having a real good understanding of what the process is."

The request to investigate officials and employees who knew Stanton's secret was submitted by Holmes in May.

But Holmes, who runs an insurance agency, said Stanton is no longer an issue for him.

"Stanton's gone," Holmes said. "He's toast."

Brown, a Largo chiropractor and Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce member, doesn't have a strong opinion on Stanton's firing. He said he couldn't judge commissioners because he didn't have all of the facts and wasn't in their shoes.

Over the years, Holmes, who attends virtually all city meetings, has made his positions on various issues well known.

In recent weeks, he has also opposed a memorial plaza to honor King.

In 2003, fraught by racism within city departments and an uneasy history of racial relations, the city appointed a committee to decide the best way to honor King. The committee presented a plan for a memorial plaza in October of that year.

The plan languished, primarily because it was tied to other projects. But several months ago, Commissioner Rodney Woods persuaded city leaders to revive the project. And in July, commissioners decided to move forward with a $60,000, 700-square-foot plaza to honor King.

Holmes said the money would be better used to build sidewalks. Plus, he claimed, the city could be sued for discrimination if it denied a request to build a monument for someone else, such as the late President Ronald Reagan.

Mandujano is the only candidate who wrote city leaders to support the memorial, which would be funded with Penny for Pinellas 1-cent local option sales tax.

Holmes stated that the city spends $50,000 a year on sidewalks and that "the additional $60,000 would be a win-win for all especially the safety of the children, " on a Web site founded by Holmes. But officials say the sidewalk funding figure is incorrect.

The city allocated $250,000 for sidewalk repairs and $300,000 for new sidewalk installation, according to city staff and commission documents. And next year, the proposed budget includes $400,000, for new sidewalk design, construction and repair.

"I'll have to get in and check that again," Holmes said. "I got that figure from multiple sources."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com

Fast Facts

Election

Date: Nov. 6

Terms: Three Years

Annual Salary: $12,621

Who Plans To Run:

Seat 5:

- Vice Mayor Harriet Crozier, 63, serving the commission for a total of 13 years, sits on the Largo High School Advisory Council, Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization board and St. Stefanos Greek Orthodox Church's parish council. She says her experience and connections help her get things done.

"I'm effective in getting people to participate in things that make our community a better place," Crozier said.

- John Mandujano, 52, a computer consultant who has worked on various political campaigns is on the Tampa Bay Vegetarian's board of directors and is a member of Florida Voices for Animals.

"I'd like to see Largo become more of destination," Mandujano said.

Seat 6:

- Woody Brown, 37, a Largo chiropractor, former Largo Rotary president and chairman of the city's Recreation, Parks and Arts Advisory Board.

Brown who lives and works in downtown Largo said he'd like to see progress in the redevelopment of the downtown core. He also wants to make sure park and recreation programs don't suffer too much from budget cuts.

- Curtis Holmes, 58, attends most city meetings. He runs an insurance agency and a company that sells whoopee cushions.

"You have to look at the issues confronting the new commission. The biggest issue is spending and how money is being spent," Holmes said.

[Last modified August 30, 2007, 21:33:19]


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