With just 22 days before the General Elections, candidates for local offices are scrambling to be seen, heard and endorsed.
Such was the case Tuesday night when candidates gathered at the Palmetto Club in FishHawk Ranch at the invitation of the FishHawk Ranch Homeowners Association.
There, they were seen and heard by a smattering of interested residents, attributing the light turnout in the county's largest voting precinct to the fact that the political forum was on the same night as the presidential debate.
Undeterred, candidates took the opportunity to talk about their qualifications and platforms for two minutes, handed out campaign literature and shook hands with potential voters.
State House District 57 candidate Bruce Barnett, D-Valrico, used the forum to urge FishHawk residents to continue their opposition to TECO's plan to build high-voltage transmission lines in a swath of woods between The Bridges and Channing Park.
"The power lines is a battle we have to fight," said Barnett, who lives in Lithia Ridge.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Commission District 4 candidate Mark Nash, D-Lithia, censured the commission for its lack of attention to FishHawk Ranch and surrounding areas, noting that Boyette Road has been under construction for 10 years.
Incumbent District 4 County Commission Al Higginbotham countered that he just received a report from county engineers indicating the widening of Boyette Road to four lanes will be completed on time and on budget.
Higginbotham said the last leg of the $56 million road-widening project from Donneymoore Drive to Bell Shoals Road is scheduled to be finished in April 2014.
He added that county engineers worked closely with residents in the area to ensure that traffic delays were minimized.
Residents also had the opportunity to hear from six FishHawk residents vying for seats on the FishHawk Community Development Districts I and II.
Eleven-year resident Steven Reiser, running for Seat 4 in District I, pointed to his 23 years of audit, budget and accounting experience, adding that he would like to provide solutions to rules residents find unfair.
Cliff Roberts, a lifelong Brandon resident who moved to FishHawk 13 years ago, is seeking re-election to District I, Seat 4, after serving on the board for eight years, most recently as chairman.
"We run a fiscally sound board and we do it with a capital reserve and contingency fund," Roberts said. "That's why rates haven't gone up in four years."
Patrick Reilly, running for District II, Seat 4, moved to FishHawk five years ago after retiring from the New York City Police Department, where he gained experience in budgeting and capital expenditures. Prior to joining the police department, the retired lieutenant colonel spent 26 years in the Marine Corps.
He said the TECO power line issue motivated him to become more involved in his community and run for the CDD.
Frank Shearrow, also vying for District II, Seat 4, moved to FishHawk three years ago.
Like Reilly, Shearrow said the power line issue, along with concerns about community safety, prompted his bid for the CDD.
Five-year Garden District resident Mark Karet, vying for District II, Seat 5, said he would bring both the perspective of a resident and business owner to the table. His wife, Bonnie, owns the Art Monkey in Park Square.
Karet has an undergraduate degree in public administration and a master's degree in urban and regional planning. He's currently a director of fiscal and project controls for Hillsborough County.
"I'll work to see that the infrastructure and amenities are well-managed and that the district board is transparent," he said.
A FishHawk resident for seven years, Bob Kneusel is vying for the CCD II, Seat 5. He said he previously served 13 years on an equivalent homeowners council in a Colorado community with 22,000 homes.
The Fishhawk Community Development Districts I, II and III are special-purpose government entities created by Hillsborough County ordinance to provide an alternative method of planning, acquiring, operating and maintaining communitywide improvements. The Fishhawk CDDs are composed of five-member boards elected by the residents.