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A Times Editorial

Aiken better of 2 weak candidates in District 5

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000

While the other two races for County Commission seats have presented voters with the opportunity to choose between worthy candidates, the showdown in District 5 is underwhelming.

Voters must select either William "Alonzo" Merritt or Mary Coyne Aiken, both of whom are essentially no-issue candidates. Add them together, and lump in the indiscriminate platforms they have assembled the past few weeks, and they still won't measure up to the least qualified of the other commission hopefuls who will be on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

With a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best disposition, we recommend Aiken, whose greatest asset may be that she has no loyalties or hostility toward any persons or groups, which Merritt obviously does.

Merritt entered this race at the behest of several groups who had grown dissatisfied with incumbent Commissioner Paul Sullivan.

Initially, it appeared Sullivan, a capable legislator, had alienated only a group of business owners and commercial fishermen in Hernando's coastal communities.

They recruited Merritt to oppose Sullivan and pumped money into his campaign. But when Merritt emerged as the victor in the Oct. 3 Republican primary runoff election, it was evident voters all over the county lacked confidence in Sullivan, or at least disapproved of his sometimes-frosty nature.

Since then, Merritt has scrambled to develop not only a platform, but an understanding of some of the more pertinent issues facing the county, such as land use planning, economic development and social services. We remain unconvinced that Merritt has even a basic comprehension of those workaday doctrines of county government, much less its necessary relationships with state agencies.

Merritt, 53, owns a home building business, which just this week came under fire from county and state regulators who claim the operation lacks licenses and his workers did not have workers' compensation insurance. Those are serious allegations, and if they are true,it raises great concerns about Merritt's respect for the law and his employees.

Aiken is a 73-year-old transplant from New York who is witty and likable, and who has never taken her candidacy too seriously. The thrust of the Democrat's campaign has been to work toward enacting an additional homestead exemption for low-income seniors. The commission already has shot down that proposal, and even if Aiken were on the board, it is unlikely she would be able to persuade a majority of commissioners to support that well-intentioned, but flawed, initiative.

Beyond that, Aiken wants to impose a "living wage" for full-time county employees and private companies that bid on county contracts.

Although she is short on details about how taxpayers would foot the bill to ensure those folks never fall below a nondescript poverty level, it still is an admirable goal and worthy of consideration.

Aiken is no prodigy, but we believe she can be relied on to be honest and work hard for her constituents. But we caution her not to waste time chasing elusive goals. With reservations, we recommend voters choose her in this race, which is remarkable only because of its mediocrity.

Opportunity to reply

Candidates not recommended by the Times are invited to respond. The reply should be no more than 250 words and must be received no later than 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2. Deliver to 161 E Jefferson St., Brooksville, or fax to 754-6133, or e-mail as a text-only file to

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