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Union endorses new face

The firefighters union endorses a political newcomer over a four-term veteran for Seminole City Council.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001


SEMINOLE -- Two years ago the city's firefighters union endorsed a political candidate for the first time in 15 years. Its support for a political rookie challenging the mayor caused quite a stir.

Once again, the Seminole Professional Fire Fighters Association is bucking the status quo by supporting a political newcomer to Seminole -- Leo Mutchler -- over an incumbent, Paul Trexler.

The 74-member union did endorse incumbents Pete Bengston and Patricia Hartstein for Tuesday's election. Voters will choose three of the four candidates to serve two-year terms on the City Council.

Last week, a panel of seven union members interviewed the candidates before making the endorsement. Panel members concluded that Mutchler's experience in politics would better serve the city.

Nothing against Trexler, who is seeking his fifth term, said Lt. Richard Schomp, chairman of the union's political action committee.

"It's not so much that Mr. Trexler is doing bad work, but with the growth of our city and the expansion of our services, we felt that Mr. Mutchler is a better match for the community," Schomp said.

Many of the union's members live in unincorporated areas near Seminole and may one day be annexed into the city, Schomp said. Mutchler's promise to represent the city at local and regional government meetings was a deciding factor in their selection, he said.

However, Trexler said his interview with union representatives was more about members' benefits than the future of the city. "Obviously, I wouldn't promise them anything," he said, adding that city staff is responsible for negotiations with the fire union.

Trexler, 54, said he thinks the fire department is one of the best in the nation. The union's decision doesn't bother him, he said.

Mutchler, 62, said he's grateful for the union's recommendation, though he didn't actively pursue it. "Apparently, what I said weighed enough to get their endorsement," he said. "It certainly is a bonus. No question about it."

Mutchler, who retired to Seminole from Racine, Wis., in 1998, said he has experience in running political campaigns and in serving on various government committees.

In 1998, rocky contract negotiations mixed with a feeling of being underappreciated spurred the fire union into political action. It recommended Mike Hook, a funeral home owner with no political experience, for mayor instead of Dottie Reeder, who has held the seat since 1995.

Reeder defeated Hook by only 65 votes. She was re-elected last month for a three-year term as mayor after no challengers came forward.

"She's doing a great job and we were happy to see that she was unopposed," Schomp said. "We're looking forward to three more years of positive growth."

- Staff writer Maureen Byrne can be reached at 445-4163 or at byrne@sptimes.com.

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