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Political rookie joins commission race

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


A political newcomer is the third candidate to seek the County Commission District 4 seat, the northernmost single-member commission district.

Robert E. Gibson is the first Democrat to enter the race. In the Republican primary, School Board member Susan Latvala faces former Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland. District 4 covers Palm Harbor, East Lake, Oldsmar, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Safety Harbor and parts of Clearwater.

Gibson actually lives in District 5, where incumbent Commissioner Karen Seel is running for office. But Gibson said he plans to move before the election from Clearwater to a home he is building in Dunedin.

Gibson, 45, a self-employed defense contractor, said he is not daunted by his Republican rivals, who between them have 16 years of experience on elected boards.

Nor does it concern him that Pinellas County voters have elected exactly one Democrat to the County Commission since 1980 (Calvin Harris in 1998).

"I'm not going to sit there and lie down like we don't exist," said Gibson, who has not run for political office before. "Democrats are going to be on the move."

Gibson said he will focus on quality of life issues during his campaign: Why do county streets flood when it rains? What can the county do to help homeless people? Gibson said he will cut back on the time he spends at his own business, Southeast Technical Services of Clearwater, to help solve county problems.

"These people (Pinellas residents) need a good example. They need to know what a full-time politician looks like," Gibson said. "Anything I do is full time."

A native of Newport, R.I., Gibson moved to Tampa 15 years ago. He has lived in Clearwater for seven years. He and his wife, Rita, have been married for three years.

While visiting other communities on business trips, Gibson said, he compiled a mental list of things Pinellas County could do better.

That list convinced him that he should run for office.

"I don't have any predestined political ambitions," Gibson said. "I just want to do something for the county."

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