Safety Harbor’s changing-of-the-guard City Commission meeting on Monday was marked by smiles and calls for unity in the community, as Cmmsr. Janet Hooper and Mayor Andy Steingold exited office and Joe Ayoub, Scott Long and Carlos Diaz were sworn in.
Change of leadership is one of the foundations of democracy, though the transition from old leadership to new can be difficult at every level of government, from local lawmakers to the president of the United States.
Safety Harbor underwent its latest changing of the guard this week following the March 14 municipal election, as three City Commission members, including Mayor Joe Ayoub, were sworn in, while two—Mayor Andy Steingold and Commissioner Janet Hooper—exited public office on Tuesday night.
Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold exited office with some parting gifts and calls for unity in the community.
And while the campaign was marred by the usual sign stealing, name-calling and other silly shenanigans that tend to infect small towns during election season, the leadership transition was, for the most part, marked by smiles and calls for unity in the community from both sides.
“It’s funny to me how you see all this fighting in the community and you see all this acrimony in the community,” Steingold said in his final remarks of a 12-year career in local government. “I don’t quite understand it. But in 2005, when I got elected, the acrimony at that time was no different than the rhetoric and acrimony now.”
“I would just convey to the citizens that try and allay some of the acrimony as time moves on.”
“Reach out. Shake some hands. Laugh a little bit, and put some faith in your City Commission,” he continued. “That doesn’t mean don’t show up and don’t be heard. What it means is, put a little faith that they’re up here discussing things and they’re trying to keep things in check to move the city ahead, to move the city forward. Development is gonna happen. Change is gonna happen. It’s gonna happen”
“With that being said, it has been a privilege and an honor, and I wish the citizens of Safety Harbor all the best.”
Commissioner Janet Hooper exited office on Monday with some parting shots about the contentious mayoral campaign.
Prior to Steingold’s speech, Hooper, who was forced to relinquish her commission seat when she decided to run for mayor, had a chance to say a few words after what was widely considered to be a highly contentious campaign against Ayoub.
“As to the campaign that just concluded, let me say it was difficult, as most of you know,” she said. “I tried to stay as much on the high road, and at times I had arguments with people on my own team to stay there. But I’m proud of the people who worked so tirelessly to support me. It makes you feel good when you have people on your side. And I’m proud that we didn’t really descend into too much ugliness. That was important, especially with the political environment that we live in today.”
“There are a couple of things, though, that I was pretty upset about, and I’m gonna be honest about that,” she continued before calling out those who invaded her family’s privacy and posted hateful videos featuring Hooper on social media.
Residents showed support for Janet Hooper and Andy Steingold Monday night.
“When my opponent and his supporters doctored a Hitler video of me, I was pretty upset. I thought it was inappropriate. Whether it was satire, whether it was meant to be humor, no matter what it was intended to do. Hitler killed six million people, and I found it totally, totally unacceptable.”
Hooper, who, like Steingold, had many supporters in attendance, concluded by saying it was time for her and the city to move on, stating “Safety Harbor does face an existential challenge,” and after Ayoub, Seat 1 Commissioner Scott Long and Seat 4 incumbent Carlos Diaz were sworn in, the new regime began the task of guiding the community through that challenge.
“I’m looking forward to serving with this new commission,” Diaz, who was named vice-mayor by Ayoub during the meeting, said. “I think we’re entering into a very positive time for the city.”
“I know the tone of this mayoral election rubbed some people the wrong way,” Long, a newcomer to the commission who has served on several civic boards over the years, said.
“But I hope people remember the race for City Commission Seat #1. We had four people this year, and I think it was a blessing that we had such a positive campaign that sometimes got lost.”
Commissioners Scott Long (l) and Carlos Diaz were sworn into office on Monday, Mar. 20, 2017.
Finally, Ayoub got his chance to speak, and he continued with the theme of positivity and unity.
“I want to thank Andy for his many years of service to the City of Safety Harbor…and I’d also like to thank Janet Hooper and compliment her for running a very spirited campaign,” Ayoub who had lost two previous elections by less than 100 votes each before defeating Hooper by more than 1,400 votes, said.
Outgoing Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold and incoming Mayor Joe Ayoub shared a handshake on Monday night.
“I’m confident that we’re going to get some things done moving forward,” he continued. “I’m going to work hard to bring the city together, but I can’t do it alone. I’m gonna look for ways to find common ground on issues where there is compromise to be had, and for issues where we disagree, we need to do so respectfully and then move on to the next issue.”
“In conclusion, I want to say that these campaigns can be tough. They tend to highlight our differences more than our similarities. For those of you who did not support me, I’m convinced that our visions for the city have more in common than there are differences. Our strategies may be different. But I’m confident we can work together to accomplish some good things.”
After the meeting, Ayoub took a minute to talk about his first day back in office following a three-year absence.
“I thought the transition went smoothly,” he told Safety Harbor Connect outside the City Hall. “I thought Andy Steingold gave a gracious speech and spoke words of optimism for the future.”
“It felt good to be back,” he added. “Now I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”