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Moderator spices up Largo commission forum

But a question about why challenger Sal Gattuso never voted in a Largo election is one of only a few times the candidates disagreed.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


LARGO -- The moderator asked for questions from the audience.

There was silence.

So Keith Bailey asked challenger Sal Gattuso to explain why he had failed to vote in a city election since moving to the city in 1997.

"Oooh!," said many in the audience.

"My excuse is there's no excuse," was Gattuso's reply.

The exchange between Gattuso and moderator Bailey proved to be the tensest moment in Tuesday's Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce candidate forum. For the remainder of the forum, Gattuso and incumbent City Commissioner Harriet Crozier gave their thoughts about downtown redevelopment, city plans for a new library and annexation.

As they did throughout much of their campaign, the candidates differed little on the issues, although Gattuso has proposed creating single-member commission districts and called for the use of voter referendums on major issues. Crozier opposes those ideas.

Here are some of their stands:

Downtown Redevelopment

Both candidates support the vision presented last month by Largo community development director Ric Goss. He envisions several trendy retail shops and restaurants along First Avenue NW and SW. His vision also includes a restaurant inside the library and a bridge linking Largo Central Park and the downtown area.

Crozier would like to see one-fourth of the old City Hall site used for housing.

"It's already there," Crozier said in her candidate interview with the Times' editorial board two weeks ago, referring to apartments and homes around the West Bay Drive Redevelopment area.

Gattuso wants commissioners to pick up the pace of the redevelopment.

"I think it needs to be done a little quicker," he said Tuesday.

Annexation

Although Largo has been criticized for its aggressive annexation efforts, Crozier said the results have benefited the city. Still, she said Tuesday that the city needs to "slow down" its approach.

As Largo annexes more land, Gattuso said, city officials need more staff to work with new residents.

"We need to hire more people, like inspectors and engineers, to go along with the annexation," he said.

Library

Both candidates are skeptical about the cost to build a new library, which has been estimated at up to $22-million.

Crozier has indicated that she might consider borrowing money to pay for construction.

"I personally don't want to go out and borrow, but if I have to, I would borrow some of the funding," she said in her interview.

Gattuso said, "We've got to look for a balance on the funds without a hardship on taxpayers."

The old police department site

After initially saying he wanted the city to sell the site to Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, Gattuso is now willing to see whether Largo can buy a nearby gas station and sell both properties to a developer. Crozier agrees, but, like Gattuso, is not giving the city much time.

"I am not willing to wait a very long time," she said Tuesday.

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