St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Hopefuls wrap up shoestring campaigns

Three of the four candidates in Seminole are relying mostly on their records. The fourth has spent $740.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


SEMINOLE -- Drive around this city and you'll see plenty of campaign signs for Leo Mutchler, a political newcomer here vying for one of three City Council seats.

But not a single sign for candidates Patricia Hartstein and Paul Trexler is in sight. And only a dozen are out for candidate Pete Bengston. All three council members hope to keep their seats when voters head to the polls Tuesday.

Trexler, who is seeking his fifth term on the council, spent $174 on his campaign. Most of that -- $154 -- paid for his qualifying fee. He spent the rest on fliers he passed out in neighborhoods.

As for signs, "They just become a piece of discarded trash because most politicians don't pick them up," said Trexler, 54.

He hopes his service on the council will sway voters in his direction. "I think that my record stands for itself, and I think that most of the people trust me," he said.

Hartstein, 53, has served on the council since 1995. She also is relying on her record, rather than door-to-door campaigning, to get her re-elected. She has spent $154 for her campaign, which paid the filing fee, and not a penny more.

"Hopefully, people have been following the city and know the job that I've done," she said. "I just hope that my reputation speaks for itself."

Bengston, 66, says he has canvassed neighborhoods. But like his fellow incumbents, Bengston hopes his longevity in the community will bring him votes. He has spent $330.

"I'm doing everything I can very quietly to try and get myself elected," he said. "I think I'm well-known in the area. Is that a bonus? I sure hope so."

Mutchler, 62, realized early on he had his work cut out for him. "Name recognition -- I don't have it," he said.

But he hopes walking neighborhoods, putting up campaign signs and mailing postcards to voters will earn him a seat on the council. He has spent $740 -- a drop in the bucket, perhaps, in other cities, but more than his three opponents combined.

"Because I'm a new kid on the block, I've got to be out there," he said.

* * *

Life is good in Seminole. Residents are awaiting the completion of a $6.1-million project at the recreation center and an $800,000 renovation of City Hall Park. The recreation facility, which will house a gym, racquetball courts and a fitness center, is scheduled to open in May. The park should be ready for visitors in July.

In June, three large neighborhoods were annexed into Seminole, doubling the city's size and drastically increasing the city's tax base. In January, another successful annexation brought 6,000 more residents into the city. Just about every week, city officials talk to residents living in unincorporated areas interested in joining the city.

With no divisive issues looming in the city, the incumbents seem to be relying on their familiar names and political records to keep them in office.

Mutchler doesn't have that option. He has been a resident of Seminole for only three years. Though he often attends committee and council meetings, his is a new face on the local political scene.

His campaign contributions total $740, and all but $50 came from his own money. He has spent nearly $600 on signs, fliers, postcards and postage. He has canvassed neighborhoods, introducing himself to those he hopes will be his constituents.

Mutchler says no particular issue caused him to run for office. He just feels he can bring a fresh perspective to the council.

Although a background in local issues is important, he said he can offer "new eyes and new ears looking at the same situation."

And, he says, he is no stranger to politics. He says in Racine, Wis., he volunteered for years on government committees, served on the City Council in the early 1970s and ran political campaigns.

In October, he applied for the Seminole City Council seat vacated by Penny Rasmussen. The council appointed Bengston to serve the remainder of her term.

If elected, Mutchler says he will try to establish a better relationship between city and county officials. He said he's tired of the county claiming there was a miscommunication every time there is a change in policy. He cited a recent episode involving a dangerous intersection in Seminole, in which the county reversed its decision to improve the spot, saying there was a miscommunication and that it was the city's responsibility.

Mutchler says Seminole elected officials need to grow closer to county and state governments. As the only candidate who is retired, Mutchler says he can represent the city at daytime government meetings.

"I'm willing to go to Tallahassee if it's important enough," he said.

An issue he somewhat disagrees with his opponents on is the countywide library cooperative. The city says it's not getting its fair share of funding from the cooperative, although the council has voted to stay, for now.

The three incumbents say they don't support pulling out.

Mutchler says he would strongly consider withdrawing from the organization if the money issue isn't resolved. "I don't think it's going to hurt the city of Seminole if we're not in the cooperative," he said.

Mutchler says it also may be time for the city to consider establishing its own police department instead of contracting with the Sheriff's Office. He fears the office could pull its deputies to emergencies in other locations, leaving the city without police protection.

And as Seminole continues to grow, "I think it's time we talk about it," he said.

* * *

Trexler says it doesn't make any sense for the city to have its own police department. Why should Seminole take on the financial burden of operating a police agency when the Sheriff's Office can do the work better and cheaper? he asks.

Keeping the city financially sound is a priority for Trexler, who is known for being a stickler when it comes to spending taxpayers' money. At first, he was against building a joint-use library with St. Petersburg Junior College because it was going to be the same size as the existing one. It wasn't until officials increased the building's size that he supported the project.

Trexler says the library, which is a scheduled to open in 2003, is one of city's biggest accomplishments. He especially likes the fact that the city received grant money for the $6.8-million project.

"I think the city is doing great financially," Trexler said. "The reason I ran the first time is because the city was in debt. And now we're doing great."

Trexler says the city's financial stability is largely a result of good management by the city staff and a conservative fiscal agenda set by the council.

Trexler says he wants to remain on the council to see the completion of major projects, such as the recreation center, City Hall Park and the library. He wants to work on improving the city's sometimes rocky relationship with the county, which he says may be attributed to Seminole's recent annexations.

The relationship among elected officials is good, he says, but the communication among staff members is poor.

"One hand doesn't seem to know what the other is doing," Trexler said of county employees.

Like Mutchler, Trexler disproves of the funding formula the county uses for allocating money to library cooperative members. "But where the problem lies is nobody is willing to give up their piece of the pie," he said.

Trexler says he wants to continue working for a solution rather than pull out of the cooperative. "It has been good to Seminole," he said.

Trexler also supports the city's annexation policy. Officials say they wait for people to approach them about joining the city before initiating plans.

Helping run the city is fun, he says. "I really enjoy working with the city," he said. "I'm proud of it."

* * *

Bengston is proud of Seminole, too. He says one of the reasons he's running for office is to give back to the community.

His political involvement in Seminole started on a volunteer basis, working on various city committees. In 2000, he worked as a part-time annexation coordinator for Seminole, walking neighborhoods and losing 40 pounds in three months.

"That was an added benefit for me," he said.

Bengston says working as the annexation coordinator was enjoyable because of the city's many selling points, especially easy access to city officials. He would like the city to square off its boundaries, but not grow too much.

"I don't want Seminole to be a big town," he said.

In October, Bengston was appointed to fill a council seat vacated by Penny Rasmussen. He says he has been having a blast with the job.

"I have enjoyed being part of what I consider a winning team," he said. "I firmly believe in the city of Seminole. I think it is one of the best places to be and I want to be a part of the future of Seminole."

For Bengston, that means doing away with the city's business licenses, which he calls "an unnecessary evil."

He says the city has been accomplishing a lot for the residents and it's time it did something for business owners.

Working on repairing the relationship between the city and the county also is a top priority for Bengston. He too says the problems lie with county staffers and not elected officials. Perhaps the miscommunication between the two governments is because of the resignation of longtime county administrator Fred Marquis.

"A lot of things that he said, a lot of things that he wanted to do are not on the current administrator's agenda," he said.

Bengston also has faith that the library cooperative issue will be solved, but that the city won't win the entire battle. It's all about compromise, he says.

"I don't want the library co-op situation to go away," he said.

* * *

Neither does Hartstein, who also thinks the library funding issue eventually will be resolved. Withdrawing from the cooperative would hurt the city, she says.

"Some money is better than no money," she said. "You can't just say we're going to pull out. People would lose with that."

Like Trexler, Hartstein says she wants to keep her seat on the council because of "unfinished business."

"I just feel like I have an obligation to see closure on some of these projects," she said. "And I enjoy it."

Just take a look at all the activity in the city, she says. A new recreation center. A new library in a couple of years. Refurbished parks. Spruced-up medians.

"It's come a long way," she said. "Seminole is growing up into a real city."

Hartstein said that for years she followed Seminole politics by being married to a council member. After her husband, William Hartstein, died, she decided to run for office.

She says the council's cohesiveness has allowed the city to accomplish a lot. "If there was a lot of dissension among the group, things wouldn't get done," she said.

But she denies that the council is just a rubber stamp for City Manager Frank Edmunds. She says his excellent management style helps council members do their homework on issues.

Hartstein supports the city's annexation efforts, but doesn't want the city to grow too large. She says she tells Edmunds to carefully monitor the growth so the city is able to keep up with its services.

"Otherwise, we have no business annexing," she said.

Hartstein also says the transition in the county administration may be causing some communication problems between the two governments.

"I'm optimistic that whatever problems exist can be ironed out," she said.

Because Seminole is growing, Hartstein says the city should consider hiring an additional community police officer. She says she also would like to see a youth advisory council established at City Hall so young people can become more involved in government.

"A lot of these kids end up staying in the community," she said.

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

The candidates

Pete Bengston

AGE: 66

BACKGROUND: Seeking his first term on the council. Was appointed to the board in October after Penny Rasmussen vacated her seat. Born in Springfield, Mass., and moved to Florida in 1945. Moved to Seminole in 1965. He attended Ben Franklin University in Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg Junior College. Worked in security for the former General Electric plant in Largo from 1956 to 1987. He and his wife, Fay, have three grown children. Bengston has volunteered on the city's business license, charter review and recreation committees. Also served on the Fire Department and St. Petersburg Junior College advisory boards. He worked as a part-time annexation coordinator for the city in 2000.

HOBBIES: Sports, volunteering as a tour guide at Shriner's Children's Hospital in Tampa.

TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "Working for all of the citizens of Seminole for positive changes. It's time for us to work together to build a better future."

ASSETS: Condominium at 6399 Shoreline Drive.

LIABILITIES: None listed.

INCOME: Investments, Social Security, retirement pension.

* * *

Patricia Hartstein

AGE: 53

BACKGROUND: Has served on the council since 1995. Was born in Camden, N.J., and moved to Seminole in 1974. Received a bachelor's degree in education in 1982 and a master's degree in educational leadership in 1994 from the University of South Florida. Hartstein is a widow and has two grown children. Coordinates a dropout prevention program for Pinellas Technical Education Center in Clearwater. She is a board member of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Community Policing Institute. Also serves on the Community Advisory Council for St. Petersburg Junior College Seminole campus and the Suncoast League of Municipalities.

HOBBIES: Golf, community service.

TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "I want to ensure that the projects that have been started are completed. I'd like to see them finished before we embark on new endeavors. It's not good business to spend money we don't have, so we have to take it in steps."

ASSETS: Home at 11189 Valencia Ave.

LIABILITIES: Mortgage.

INCOME: Pinellas County Schools.

* * *

Leo Mutchler

AGE: 62

BACKGROUND: Owned an insurance agency for 27 years in Racine, Wis., where he served on the City Council from 1970 to 1973. Attended the University of Wisconsin. Worked on political campaigns and served on various government and non-profit committees in Wisconsin. He and his wife, Jane, retired to Seminole in 1998. They have five grown children.

HOBBIES: Swimming, reading, travel.

TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "I think there needs to be more political activity coming out of Seminole and more communication between the city and the county on a political level."

ASSETS: Condominium at 11201 80th Ave. N, stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

LIABILITIES: None listed.

INCOME: Investments.

* * *

Paul Trexler

AGE: 54

BACKGROUND: Seeking his fifth term on the council. Born in Montclair, N.J., and moved to Seminole in 1989. Received an associate's degree from the United States Air Force Institute of Aircraft Engineering, and attended Morris County Community College in Morris County, N.J. Works as a machinist at Precision Manufacturing in Clearwater. He is a member of the Suncoast League of Municipalities and the Florida League of Cities. He and his wife, Sue, live at 11085 Duncan St.

HOBBIES: Flying, riding motorcycles, golf.

TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "To continue excellent services in the city and to keep reducing the millage rate."

ASSETS: Home.

LIABILITIES: Mortgage.

INCOME: Precision Manufacturing.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.