The Clearwater official says he will not seek re-election after five years on the City Commission.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000
CLEARWATER -- When people asked City Commissioner Bob Clark about his plans for re-election, he'd tell them he wasn't deciding until Labor Day.
He was fibbing.
Clark, 54, has known for a month what he will do, and on Friday he couldn't keep it to himself any longer.
"I'm through," he said in a 30-minute interview filled with the air of disappointment that hangs in City Hall during this summer of deflated hopes.
After nearly five years on the commission, and with a chance to make it eight, Clark has decided to end his political career when his term expires in March.
He said he has enjoyed the job, but leaves bewildered about the city's future, hurt by recent events and regretful that he hasn't had more of an impact.
His decision came before City Manager Mike Roberto was forced to resign, and before voters soundly rejected a plan for downtown redevelopment.
What sparked it was a Times poll released before the July 11 referendum revealing that many Clearwater voters distrusted their city officials and had no faith in them to pull off the $300-million plan proposed by out-of-town developers.
Many voters cited the city's beleaguered new roundabout on Clearwater Beach as a major source of their angst.
Clark felt stung.
The poll, he said, "landed hard on me."
"Maybe it's time for a fresh face that folks can have a better feeling for," he said. "I don't want to be there if people don't trust me. . . . Trust is everything to me."
His decision leaves three open seats in March -- a proverbial "clean slate" -- and a rare chance for voters to restock the City Commission with newcomers.
Term limits will prevent Commissioner J.B. Johnson from running again, and Commissioner Ed Hooper is leaving to campaign for the District 50 seat in the Florida House of Representatives.
"This is a city that gets to decide what direction it wants to go in the future . . . to try to capture where the city really does want to go," Clark said.
He added: "I'm not really sure where it really wants to go right now."
They were glum words for a commissioner who normally approaches his city job in an upbeat fashion, a man whose all-time favorite song is the light-hearted Beach Boys classic, California Girls.
Thursday night, as city residents complained bitterly in a meeting called to solicit ways to retool the roundabout, Clark grew frustrated and left early.
"I didn't think the meeting was very productive," he said Friday. "The roundabout is the thing I will regret the most. As a team, we just executed it poorly -- extremely poorly. We rushed it with the idea of trying to beat the tourist season. That one should have taken another year of thought before we did it."
He said he agreed with the concept of a roundabout on the beach, but said it has turned into "a disaster."
Clark said the fault lies with the commission, not just Roberto, who has taken much of the blame. He said the former city manager left Clearwater having improved the city.
Clark took office after a special election in October 1995, replacing Mike Dallman, who resigned earlier that year just 38 days into his term. He won by a 2-1 ratio after a campaign that employed the gimmick of handing out Clark candy bars.
Echoing the themes of Hooper and Johnson, who were elected that March, Clark promised voters a more "reasonable" approach to governing after three years of public bickering by a sharply divided commission.
"We don't have acrimony on the City Commission any more," Clark said, "but there's still a divisiveness in the city, which I will look upon as one of my great failings."
Clark was re-elected without opposition in 1998. Because his first term was only a partial one, he could have run for a second complete term in 2001.
He said he announced his plans now so others would have time to consider running, and he plans to help recruit candidates.
After leaving city hall, he plans to devote more time to the Clearwater printing business he has owned since 1983 and to a new charter boat business operated by his son.
"It was an enjoyable five years," said Clark, whose family moved to Clearwater from New York when he was 9. He later made his mark as a disc jockey and general manager of WTAN radio.
"It's unique running the city that you grew up in," he said, remembering the first time he rode in a parade as a city commissioner. The experience struck him, having attended parades in his youth and waved at former commissioners such as John Chesnut Sr.
"I thought, "That man has a park named after him, for God sakes.' "