Meet the Candidates: Gulfport

Gulfport is readying itself for elections that will include a race for mayor and Wards 1 and 3.

The seat for Ward 3 will remain with Yolanda Roman who is running unopposed. Incumbent Dan Liedtke faces off against April Thanos for the Ward 1 seat. Gulfport councilmembers serve two-year terms.

The mayoral race will feature incumbent Sam Henderson and his opponent, Barbara Banno. This is a three-year term.

Elections will be held March 15. Via email, the Gabber asked each candidate the same questions (edited for style only) for this introduction, but will feature a more specific follow-up as we get closer to the election.

Have a question for the candidates? 

The Gabber wants to hear from you! Please email your questions to Publisher@theGabber.com, with subject line “Election.” We will chose from these questions in our follow-up Q&A.

Mayor’s Race

What is your background? 

Barbara Banno

Barbara Banno

Barbara Banno: I opened Stella’s Restaurant in downtown Gulfport in 2009. The café, renowned regionally for its breakfasts, continues to thrive. I am a board member of the Gulfport Merchant’s Association; vice president of the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce, and a visible advocate for the Gulfport Public Library’s Circle of Friends LGBT Committee. I served on Gulfport City Council March 2011 – 2013.

Sam Henderson

Sam Henderson

Sam Henderson: I am serving my seventh year on Gulfport City Council, and my third year as Mayor. During that time I have also served as the Vice Chair and subsequently Chair of the Florida League of Cities Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Legislative Committee, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and Agency on Bay Management and was appointed as Gulfport’s first representative on the Pinellas Planning Council. I have worked in manufacturing, hospitality and most notably the environmental field for 12 years focusing on site assessments, remediation, sampling plans and project management. Locally I have worked at MacDill and Tyndall AFB’s as well as Florida Superfund sites. I attended the University of South Florida, receiving a B.S. in Environmental Science and Policy and an M.A. through the Florida Studies program concentrating on Public Policy and Ecology.

How long have you lived in the city?

BB: I have lived in Gulfport for almost 10 years

SH: My family moved to Gulfport from Canton Ohio in 2006. My wife Laura is a 4th grade teacher with Pinellas County Schools, and my daughter Brenna is a freshman at St. Petersburg College focusing on Marine Science.

In 20 words or less, tell voters why you chose to run.

BB: I am running for Mayor of Gulfport because I believe we need to get “back to basics” in our wonderful town’s politics, by allowing citizens to have more of a voice.

SH: I stuck with Gulfport through tough economic times, and I want to see our many good works through to completion.

What do you think are the biggest issues you will be tackling if elected?

BB: Urgency in Clam Bayou’s protection and clean-up.
Guiding the council to be more transparent by better involving citizens.
Expanding the Gulfport Marina’s profit-making potential and explore a mooring field.
Commitment to continue to focus on infrastructure improvements – sewers, alleys, streets.
Maintaining as a full-service city; specifically sustaining our Gulfport Police Department.

SH: 1) Helping forge greater protections for our waters and other natural resources through collaboration with neighboring municipalities, lobbying at the state level and cooperative partnerships with other governmental entities.
2) Maintaining the Old Florida character of our city while still expanding opportunities for economic growth to businesses and residents.
3) Sustaining a high level of service to our residents by keeping costs reasonable, facilities well maintained, information readily available and city services in-house. Our autonomy as a full-service city is important.
4) Continuing our excellent track record in acquiring grants. This is always highly competitive, and we have done a remarkable job in recent years of securing grant funding. We need to keep that going.
5) Completion of major infrastructure upgrades. These fixes are not cheap. They require smart budgeting, seizing of funding opportunities and diligent planning.
6) Fighting to keep external costs (such as electricity, water and sewer, and unfunded mandates from the state) reasonable for the city and its residents.
7) Generally, making wise decisions that will be of the greatest benefit to to the greatest number of residents while not compromising anyone’s quality of life. Making smart and thoughtful decisions that will keep us poised for long-term success. It is tough to make everyone happy, because we all have such varied interests and desires, but that is the job and it is always a challenge.
8) Healing the city after what always seem to be divisive elections.

Describe Gulfport in three words.

BB: Community. Diversity. Artistic.

SH: Diverse. Welcoming. Home.

Extra: What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of Gulfport?

BB: I love that Gulfport is so community-oriented. This small town boasts a wide array of personalities and businesses, yet it embraces uniqueness. Gulfport has a small-town feel but is a neighborhood that offers full service amenities new families, seniors, homeowners, renters, seasonal visitors and long-time residents alike. I am proud to live in a city where I feel safe, accepted and included. With the recreation center for the kids, a top-rated senior center, public library, full service marina, beaches, police department and parks and playgrounds, there is something for everyone – young and old. And I cannot leave out the artistic aspect of Gulfport: the culture and color that is brought to the community through the arts is invaluable and makes this city one of a kind.

Gulfport, as great as it is, still has areas of improvement. In the community, the political divide is so great, it has the potential to ruin personal and professional relationships. At times, I feel like the community lacks cohesion. While this city embraces its diversity, it is also apprehensive to change. Gulfport can be at the forefront of innovation yet still be able to maintain its small town charm. When elected, I am going to reach out to those who have not reached out to me. I will not let political differences divide this city. I will be innovative and progressive but will ensure the protection and preservation of Gulfport’s intimate character we all love.

SH: My favorite thing about Gulfport? This city lets you be who you are and even encourages you to be the person you want to be. It is an intimate place with a caring community of people from all over the world. Gulfport is not pretentious, it is not vain, it is not false and not too fancy. In Gulfport, everyone fits in. The theme song from “Cheers” should be Gulfport’s unofficial anthem.

That being said, if I had to pick a least favorite aspect, it would be that some people seem to want Gulfport to be like the place that they came from. Me? I like Gulfport for being Gulfport. That’s why we came here, and that’s why we’ve stayed here.

Ward 1

What is your background?

Dan Liedtke

Dan Liedtke

Dan Liedtke: In addition to serving as a Gulfport Councilmember for the last four years, I have also worked as a Business/Information Technology Consultant for the last 20 years in both the private and public sectors. Fifteen years of my professional consulting experience have been in the public sector at the federal, state and local levels of government. I also take an active role in the Florida League of Cities and currently serve on the Transportation and Intergovernmental Relations Policy Committee. Each year we lobby Tallahassee on behalf of cities across Florida working to preserve “Home Rule” and addressing the issues that matter most to Gulfport.

 

April Thanos

April Thanos

April Thanos: For most of my career, I worked for Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world. I managed multi-million dollar budgets, so I know how to spend smart and improve efficiency. After that, I worked for the Greater Seattle Business Association, the largest LGBT and allied chamber of commerce in the country. Part of my job was to market the LGBT and small business community and run a scholarship program for LGBT students. I also spent 10 years on the executive board of my neighbor council in Seattle.

 

 


How long have you lived in the city?

DL: 12 years 7 months.

AT: I bought my house in Gulfport in 2012.


In 20 words or less, tell voters why you chose to run.

DL: I wish to continue working as a team member with all members of council and city staff on improving Gulfport.

AT: I see so much opportunity for Gulfport, and I want to help make Gulfport an even better city for everyone.


What do you think are the biggest issues you will be tackling if elected?

DL: Some of the issues planned for tackling in the next two years include putting the plans in motion for a new modern Gulfport Senior Center; the replenishment of Gulfport Beach; a continued focus on options for cleaner waterways (and a cleaner) Clam Bayou; lower taxes; and working to keep the business environment open, friendly and thriving. Addressing issues with our public infrastructure, including roadways, sanitary sewers and storm water management remain ongoing priorities with increased funding (including loans and grants) already allocated for accelerated repairs.

AT: Transparency and accountability, inclusion, infrastructure, improvements to Gulfport Boulevard and 49th Street, enhancing the business and investment climate, and the environment.


Describe Gulfport in three words.

DL: Small. Diverse. Friendly.

AT: Welcoming. Diverse. Beautiful.

Extra: What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of Gulfport?

DL: What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of Gulfport?
My favorite aspect of Gulfport is the safe small town atmosphere and charm.
My least favorite aspect is we never get a snow day.

AT: My favorite thing about Gulfport is how welcoming the city is. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. When you come to Gulfport, you’ll make great friends, find great places to eat and shop, and you can participate in many social and volunteer opportunities. You’ll feel like you’re home right away.

One thing I would like to improve in Gulfport is the amount of public input involved in making decisions for our city. I think we need to create more opportunities for residents and business owners to learn about what’s going on and tell our government what they need.

Ward 3 

What is your background? 

Yolanda Roman

Yolanda Roman

Yolanda Roman: I retired the end of 2015 after 36 years working on health care access (government and commercial) to medications for mental illness  and addiction. Regarding politics, I was elected to Gulfport City Council (Ward 3) in March 2014.  This is my first elected office position.

How long have you lived in the city? 

YR: My permanent move to Gulfport occurred in the spring of 2008 (from Philadelphia). Prior to this move, I maintained a small vacation cottage half a block outside the Gulfport city limits near the marina district.

In 20 words or less, tell voters why you chose to run.

YR: To continue my serious work and commitments I have made to the city of Gulfport, our residents, businesses and visitors.

What do you think are the biggest issues you will be tackling if elected?

YR: Since my election two years ago, our primary challenge is to scrutinize and develop a budget that meets our obligation to safety (police and fire), city employees, public works, parks and recreation (including senior programs), redevelopment areas, the marina and necessary capital improvement programs. Moving forward, we must adjust and adopt an operating budget that addresses other key issues facing Gulfport. Here are other infrastructure issues, beyond our sanitary sewer system, that need attention:  1)  Street paving (sequenced after completed sewer work), including fixing some of our brick roads;  2)  Alleys that are in disrepair and need regrading (not paving);  3)  I recently recommended we develop a flood mitigation capital improvement plan for Shore Blvd (will require funding sources);  4)  Prudent decision-making regarding the proposed storm water pond and bike/pedestrian trails;  and 5)  Downtown parking improvements (some plans are already under development). Although not an infrastructure issue, as a councilmember, I will also be involved in the discussions and tough decisions pertaining to the upcoming water surcharge to be imposed by the city of St. Petersburg.

As one of the councilmembers that continues to voice concerns regarding our contaminated Clam Bayou, I want us to keep focused on the ongoing and negative environmental, economic and health impact to Gulfport. Not only do we need assurance that intentional dumping will never occur again (still pending), we need to return our bayou, marina and beach to a long-lasting healthy state. I have also proposed to the city manager and city council that we begin to assess how Gulfport can make more environmentally-friendly decisions. I would like to see solar panels considered for city buildings, use of building materials made from recycled materials, more naturally-landscaped and chemical-free green spaces, and using the new porous paving material for the beach parking area. It would also be prudent for us to make a final determination on a mooring field.

I welcome comments and feedback on any of these or other issues not mentioned here. Our funds are not limitless. We must always carefully weigh and balance the every day operating needs of our city when considering new projects and costs. Gulfport residents have my commitment to keep us on track, choosing projects wisely.

Describe Gulfport in three words.

YR: Welcoming. Strong. Thriving

Extra: What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of Gulfport?

YR: Gulfport is and will continue to be a city that works hard to provide us a wonderful place to live, work and play. Our uniqueness is celebrated in many ways – diversity of residents, homes, restaurants, businesses, recreation, artist, etc. –  and is simply my favorite descriptor for Gulfport. Like anything else and other older cities, we are not perfect and there certainly areas for improvement – anything crumbling or in disrepair. Right now, our ongoing high bacterial counts that keep us from our recreational waters is my least favorite.

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