New Port Richey’s municipal spring election for Mayor has been heating up since it got underway in February. Most elections in town pass with little notice, and some don’t happen at all, as evidenced by 2015’s municipal election in which two incumbents ran unopposed for seats on City Council.
Next year also has promise as two seats will be up for re-election, but the voting process in New Port Richey is underlined by an extremely low voter turnout. Last year’s re-election of two incumbent City Councilors as they ran against four other challenges yielded a paltry turnout of 13.5% of registered voters in the city, just 1,847 total votes cast. In a City of more than 14,000 that is an incredible minority of voters making decisions that directly affect each city resident.
Do you think you should be able to park your car in the grass in front of your house? Do you think you should be able to take down a dying tree without a permit? Do you want to be able to own chickens? Right now all three of those issues are restricted by city ordinance. Taxes too high? The only way to change these things is to vote in local elections. Of course, Florida’s Republican controlled legislature has been recently reducing the powers of municipalities in favor of increasing their own control by pre-empting municipal ordinances, but that’s a separate discussion.
This year’s race for Mayor features two candidates with similar ideologies but contrasting experiences. The incumbent, Mayor Rob Marlowe, has spent the last decade in public service within New Port Richey. If you have been in favor of the changes made in New Port Richey, he is at least 1/5 responsible for them. Similarly, if you disagree with the direction over the last ten years or so, he’s to blame. He is also a self-employed local business owner who is invested in the future of New Port Richey. Marlowe’s business downtown, Gulf Coast Networking, has been a staple in an area that has undergone major upheavals in which businesses have survived a low point in the City’s development.
By contrast, Mr. Marlowe’s opponent spent his career in the public sector as a Law Enforcement Officer. Major Ed Beckman (Ret.) spent 30 years with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Beckman has not previously held political office, and while it seems he has significant experience in public administration and leadership, he is a newcomer to New Port Richey government.
If you would like more biographical information about each candidate, check out our previous article featuring both candidates. If you are looking for a feel of their policy, read my summary of last Thursday’s candidate’s forum.
The difference between the candidates is in experience in politics. Mr. Beckman’s lack of previous involvement in city affairs means for me that this election comes down to the continuity in leadership that will be necessary to capitalize on current progress and I do not feel this is the time to vote for a candidate with no experience in elected office.
Rob Marlowe and I do not agree on many issues facing the city, though there are also plenty of things on which we agree. There are areas in the City that I have long felt have been neglected and continue to be neglected. For a minor example, Marlowe personally promised me that a sidewalk would be installed on Congress Avenue north of Main Street–a spot which still sees a lot of pedestrian traffic on the grass. That hasn’t been done yet, but Marlowe’s leadership over the past three years has given me hope that it and other small issues like it will eventually be solved. (Mayor Marlowe has since said that this will be completed by Summer of this year). Another is my longstanding push for an increased investment in the City’s reuse water infrastructure. On the other hand, Marlowe has been outspoken and has taken action in his support of environmental issues in the City, has pushed hard to create amenities to draw new residents and businesses (and has succeeded), and has made concrete gains in reducing nuisances like noise, crime, and prostitution. Marlowe is also by far the most accessible of New Port Richey’s Council members. He answers citizen e-mails within hours and has an open door policy at his business for concerned citizens. I forward many resident concerns to Mr. Marlowe and not a single time have such inquiries gone unanswered. The same cannot be said for other members of the Council, including some whom are up for re-election next year.
Further, from my conversations with Mr. Beckman and from his policy statements, he is not bringing anything particularly new to the table. Many of his positions echo those of Mayor Marlowe’s. They seem to agree on many issues, and would do well to work together in the future. In fact, Mr. Beckman might be well served to run in next year’s 2018 City Council election where two seats will be available, including Councilwoman Judy DeBella Thomas whose term limits are up. As of now, Beckman has given policy answers which lead me to believe that he is unfamiliar with some areas of the City’s policy.
As for the race itself, I am troubled by the politicization of a non-partisan race. Beckman has accepted contributions from many of the County’s top Republican leaders, including $1,000 from a “Pasco PAC,” a Political Action Committee (PAC) chaired by a former chairman of the Pasco Republican Party. In total Beckman received $2,500 from PACs around Tampa Bay. Beckman has also received the maximum allowable contribution of $1,000 from the PBA police union: a vote of confidence, for sure–but also unusual–especially because the City is currently in contract negotiations with the PBA. One of the City’s largest expenditures currently continues to be the Police and Fire Department pensions. A strong position of negotiation on this issue is important for New Port Richey residents as the City moves into taking advantage of economic recovery. Accepting such a contribution clearly compromises Beckman’s position on this issue. To be clear, I would rather Beckman have refused these contributions. This outlay of Republican support is also a bit baffling; Beckman is a career public employee, while Marlowe has owned his own business for many years. Their platforms are very, very similar. It would stand to reason that Marlowe would be the preferred candidate for these interests because of his business background. The only reason I can see for this is Marlowe’s criticism of the County’s effectiveness in handling infrastructure and crime issues in West Pasco.
In fairness, Marlowe has also received contributions from similar political party organizations amounting to $1,600, but those are dated after PACs began contributing to Beckman’s campaign and I have been told by representatives of those groups that their donations were in response to contributions made to Beckman. I would have preferred that Marlowe refuse these as well, but apparently this is the direction that local politics will be heading. Nowhere is safe.
Beckman: $12,000 total. 11% of contributions from city residents. $2,500 from PACs.
Marlowe: $5,700 total. 35% of contributions from city residents. $1,600 from PACs/political groups.
Considering how close the platforms of the two candidates are, and the financial contributions at work, the candidate with more experience and who offers staying the course is my recommendation.
The election is April 11th, and many voters will be receiving their mail-in ballots (or have already received them). Those ballots should be mailed at least 3-5 “delivery” days before the election according to Pasco’s Supervisor of Elections website, which would be April 5th. If you choose to vote on election day (Tuesday, April 11th) the poll opens at 7 AM and will remain open until 7 PM. You must be in line at 7 PM in order to vote. Voting for this election in person will be located at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center.
NewsPortRichey recommends that you vote to re-elect Mayor Rob Marlowe in this election.