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Hillsborough needs a mayor, partisan or not

The debate over finding a Hillsborough County mayor is now divided over whether the position should be partisan or not. Yet, politics will likely always have a presence — even if candidates aren’t allowed to campaign on political issues — so the debate should not stop the position from being created.

Under the current system, voters elect seven county commissioners, who then appoint a county administrator. The group Elected County Mayor Political Committee Inc. wants to turn the administrator into an elected position.

The idea was to create a position that could be held accountable and provide real leadership for the county government. The group has been campaigning to get an initiative on the county ballot for several years, but the latest version would allow candidates to campaign on political issues, making it no longer a nonpartisan position, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Mary Ann Stiles, a lawyer and supporter of the initiative, said to the Times that partisanship should not be a major issue since voters will likely know candidates’ political affiliations anyway.

“I don’t see it as that big of an issue,” she said.

Stiles’ point should not be overlooked. Political issues will likely come up in such an important election, whether through a campaign or in the media. If everyone knows where the candidates stand, the position would only be nonpartisan in name.

Take the high-profile St. Petersburg mayoral race last year for example. It was no secret that Kathleen Ford was a Democrat and Bill Foster was a Republican. The candidates’ ideologies were widely discussed, even if they weren’t campaign platforms.

Stances that the candidates might not have wanted to talk about were brought up and put under public scrutiny. Foster received a lot of criticism for his creationist beliefs and for sending a letter to the Pinellas County School Board arguing against the theory of evolution.

Stiles’ initiative still has to be finalized and gain enough support to make it onto the 2010 ballot. By opening the proposed position up to political debate, she will likely gain more approval from Republicans and Democrats.

If the initiative makes it onto the ballot, voters should not strike it down just because it creates another partisan position. Hillsborough County needs a mayor, and there is no real way to keep politics entirely out of such a race.