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After a year that was traumatic by any standard, Largo voters chose to elect to their City Commission two people who are unrelentingly positive about the city, and voters did so by wide margins.
Harriet Crozier, a commission incumbent known for her big smile and Chamber of Commerce-like boosterism of Largo, won 72 percent of the vote. Her opponent, John Mandujano, was a virtual unknown before the campaign began and made his opposition to the firing of former City Manager Steve Stanton the centerpiece of a campaign that criticized city decisionmakers.
Voters gave political newcomer Woody Brown an even wider margin of victory. A chiropractor and active volunteer in the community, Brown trounced his opponent, getting 74 percent of the votes cast in that race. Brown's optimism, energy and community ties contrasted with the negativism of his opponent, longtime city critic Curtis Holmes. Holmes has blamed his defeat on a long list of factors, but it could be that voters just didn't like his attitude.
This election should prove to other would-be candidates, in Largo and other North Pinellas communities, that it is possible to run a clean campaign full of positive energy and come out a winner.
However, it is also clear that candidates need to have clean backgrounds and excellent preparation.
Background checks turned up a few issues in both Holmes' and Mandujano's personal histories - problems that could have been overcome by the right kind of candidate, perhaps, but the voters were having none of it. Crozier has been a city official for years, while her opponent, Mandujano, had not played any role in city government and only recently began attending city meetings. In the other race, Holmes had been merely an in-your-face critic, while Brown had been chairing a city board and working on projects with community groups.
Perhaps the voters finally have tired of nasty campaigns. It just makes sense that if you are going to be a candidate who criticizes the status quo, you should do so carefully, with constructive ideas and after investing time to understand and build bridges in the community.
Largo's strategy to boost voter turnout by moving city elections from March to November may have paid off, though confirming that will require several more elections. In 2005, the last year in which Largo had an election that did not include the mayor's post, the turnout was just over 6 percent. This year, 12.3 percent of the registered voters showed up - still far too low, but better.
With the election over and two commissioners seated, perhaps Largo can put behind it the turmoil that resulted from the departure of Stanton, turnover in city departments and controversies that divided the community.
All seven commissioners should take to heart often-heard criticisms of their work that arose during the campaign: that they don't do enough homework before making important decisions, waste too much time quibbling over minutia, and backtrack too often.
A new year is just around the corner, and the Largo City Commission has an opportunity to make 2008 a year of positive change.
[Last modified November 13, 2007, 20:51:17]