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    Newcomer leading in Seat 3 money race

    Hoyt Hamilton, who is running against ex-Mayor Rita Garvey, also leads in attracting key union endorsements.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Election cash and endorsements are flowing to Hoyt Hamilton, a political newcomer facing former Clearwater Mayor Rita Garvey in the race for a one-year stint on the City Commission's Seat 3.

    Hamilton, a beach businessman and minor-league baseball sports agent, has raised $13,310 so far for his campaign -- about three times as much as Garvey.

    Hamilton also has garnered the endorsements of the city's police, firefighter and general employee unions as well as political action committees formed by Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce members and beach business owners.

    "I'm thrilled by the support that people have shown me," Hamilton said.

    The cash and kudos for Hamilton, particularly from law firms, developers, and others in the city's business community, don't bother Garvey.

    In fact, she maintains that she planned to keep her campaign low-key and issue-oriented. She didn't expect to get support from groups that are behind Hamilton, she said, adding she's unwilling to make promises to them.

    "The reaction I'm getting from the general public is they do trust me, and they're going to vote for me," Garvey said.

    Garvey has emphasized her 18-year legacy on the commission, where she says she was a careful, studious lawmaker. Unlike Hamilton, Garvey said, she knows the intimate details of a city budget and won't be on a learning curve if elected.

    "I'm running to bring knowledge and experience to the City Commission at a time when there's three seats open and no incumbents running," Garvey said. "I can help direct consensus-building."

    But Hamilton argues Garvey's record is poor.

    "Rita did not plan for the future, and now the whole city's paying for that," Hamilton said. He alluded to a planned increase in water and sewer rates to improve the city's system after years of deterioration.

    While Garvey was in office, the city also had cost overruns and other problems building a new police station, a city office building and the Harborview Center, he said. Former City Manager Mike Roberto was hired. The beach roundabout was planned.

    And, Hamilton said, the beach and downtown suffered economic decline.

    Garvey defends her record. She said she didn't agree with the initial decision to buy an old department store to make it the Harborview Center, for instance. She said she didn't want to hire Roberto, either.

    As for the roundabout, Garvey said it's an improvement over the previous intersections at Clearwater Beach's entrance. She didn't feel its approval was rushed, either.

    Garvey cites past political successes that include building a new Pier 60 on the beach and a new bridge to Sand Key.

    Garvey said the regime at City Hall has caused residents to distrust their government. She feels that commissioners haven't been asking enough questions about projects, having received private briefings by city officials before meetings.

    An example, she said, was Monday's workshop where commissioners got only a "superficial" presentation about a deal to allow the Philadelphia Phillies to use tax money to build a new spring training complex near Drew Street and U.S. 19.

    "They didn't have the final draft yet," Garvey said. "If that's the case, why . . . (do) they have to vote on this Thursday night?"

    Garvey said she has serious concerns about whether the proposed site, an old landfill in an area where sinkholes have occurred, is the best location.

    Hamilton, by contrast, is much more comfortable with the baseball deal set to be approved Thursday.

    The candidates have distinct differences on other issues, too. Garvey disagrees with a city plan to allow 600 more hotel units to be built on Clearwater Beach than are now permitted.

    "We're setting ourselves up for disaster," Garvey said, citing future traffic jams and possible problems in hurricane evacuations.

    Garvey said beach redevelopment should happen through existing small and medium-sized motels being improved. She didn't offer specifics.

    Hamilton approves allowing new 13- to 14-story resorts on the beach, using the extra hotel units the city wants to give developers. He would like to expand the program so that smaller existing hotels can have extra units, too.

    "Redevelopment is key," Hamilton said.

    Garvey said downtown redevelopment should include city street beautification projects and giving facade renovation grants to private property owners.

    Hamilton seems more supportive of finding a new, master developer to put together a major project downtown. He talks of movies, dining and unique shopping. He would support knocking down the Harborview Center to build the "right project," which Garvey would not.

    Hamilton is willing to accept support from the Church of Scientology in his campaign, while Garvey, a longtime critic of Scientology, said she expects church members will work against her. Still, both candidates said the city has to learn how to peacefully coexist with Scientology downtown.

    "People will think I'm pro-Scientology," Hamilton said. "But I'm just a realist."

    Hamilton would recuse himself from any specific decisions about the beach that could benefit his or his family's business interests, he said.

    He also would be careful of any perceived conflicts if he was negotiating with the Phillies as a player agent while making decisions about the team on the commission. But he said such a scenario would be unlikely.

    Garvey has her own public perceptions to deal with, after a 1998 drunken-driving accident followed by her admission that she is an alcoholic. She said last week that she is back in counseling with a priest, at the request of r family members who felt it would continue helping her.

    But Garvey says she has dealt with her problem, one day at a time. Hamilton has not made it a campaign issue.

    Commissioners in Clearwater are elected by residents citywide. The one-year term for Seat 3 is open because former Commissioner Ed Hooper resigned last year after a failed bid for the Florida Legislature.

    If elected, Hamilton said, he will run for a second three-year term in 2002. Garvey isn't sure yet what she would do then.

    The candidates

    Rita Garvey

    AGE: 55

    BACKGROUND: Was born in Minnesota and earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Minnesota. Moved to Clearwater in 1969. She and her husband, Timothy, a retired manager from Honeywell, have three grown children. Garvey got involved in city politics in 1976, then served as city commissioner from 1980 to 1986 and as mayor from 1987 to 1999. Also has served on the Pinellas Workforce Development Board, helped to found the Clearwater Historical Society, led the Association of Sister Cities of Florida, coordinated the Clearwater Sister Cities program, sat on the Florida 2012 Olympics board and been an officer of the Friends of the Clearwater Library and Greater Clearwater Public Library Foundation.

    HOBBIES: Reading, walking 4 miles daily, travel.

    TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "The most important thing at first will be selection of the city manager. Then it will be just carefully reviewing everything that comes forward to make sure the public feels there is trust in government."

    ASSETS: Home at 1550 Ridgewood St.

    LIABILITIES: None listed

    INCOME: Husband's retirement income, trust fund, stocks, mutual funds, Social Security

    WEB SITE: www.ritagarvey.com

    Hoyt Hamilton

    AGE: 42

    BACKGROUND: Has called Clearwater home since he was a Morton Plant Hospital baby. Graduated from Clearwater High School in 1976 and received a bachelor's degree in industrial management from Georgia Tech. Hamilton and his wife, Sheryl, have two teenage sons. He owns and manages the Palm Pavilion Inn on Clearwater Beach and works as an agent for minor-league baseball players. Hamilton's family also runs the Palm Pavilion restaurant and leases a beach concession stand from the city. He has held leadership posts for the Clearwater Beach Rotary Club, Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, Pinellas County Hotel and Motel Association, the Clearwater for Youth sports organization and the Long Center.

    HOBBIES: Golf, travel, following baseball.

    TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "I'd like to bring people's confidence back to the commission and start working hard to move the city forward. We're the 10th largest city in the state of Florida. We're not small-town America."

    ASSETS: Home at 2020 Coronet Lane, ownership interest in Palm Pavilion Inn and ownership of Pinnacle Sports Management.

    LIABILITIES: Mortgage.

    INCOME: Palm Pavilion restaurant and inn, sports agent income.

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