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Outgoing Safety Harbor mayor led through difficult times

Mayors Jim Ronecker of Oldsmar, left, and Andy Steingold of Safety Harbor share a laugh as they pass while serving coffee Dec. 14 at the annual Mayors’ Breakfast, which benefits needy kids.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Mayors Jim Ronecker of Oldsmar, left, and Andy Steingold of Safety Harbor share a laugh as they pass while serving coffee Dec. 14 at the annual Mayors’ Breakfast, which benefits needy kids.

SAFETY HARBOR — An outsider who managed to wriggle his way in, Andy Steingold fought to hold his spot on a City Commission once dominated by what he calls "the good ol' gal club."

Pushing for financial transparency and neighborhood amenities, he endured a topsy-turvy period in Safety Harbor politics and remained in office for nearly eight years, working his way from commissioner to vice mayor to mayor.

That tenure ends Monday as new leadership is sworn in.

"We've come a long, long, long, long way," said Steingold, 52.

An attorney, he ran for judge last year. The campaign failed, he suspected because of his opponent's deeper coffers, but he was legally required to resign as mayor anyway.

With Steingold's departure, the commission loses its senior member. He will be replaced by current Vice Mayor Joe Ayoub, a certified public accountant who was unopposed for the mayoral seat.

"The big item that I'd really like to focus on is trying to get a consensus on the big issues," said Ayoub, a six-year commissioner, "... so we're all getting a compromise or a position that reflects all of our desires for the direction of the city. It's to create a spirit of cooperation among the commissioners."

The City Commission also will get a new member Monday, Rick Blake, a real estate consultant.

In Steingold's first years, the City Commission was buffeted by controversy. He served while a city manager lost the commission's support and another spent too much time outside City Hall umpiring sports events. He was there for several surprise departures from the commission, including a mayor who abruptly bowed out after irritating residents and provoking an ethics complaint. And he led the city through a shocking revelation that the city's trusted finance director had used public funds to cover costs for her daughters' basketball team.

Steingold pressed the reluctant Chamber of Commerce to reveal its murky finances. He pushed for neighborhood stoplights and speed bumps and, unsuccessfully, to create a county mayor.

"Over time, when you're all-inclusive and you're not acting like you're a VIP and you're just everybody's neighbor — I think people appreciate that," he said.

"I don't control anything. The only thing I control is I run the meetings."

He credited the city for adding parks, including the expansive waterfront property purchased from the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. The commission will begin considering this year improvements to the undeveloped land.

Steingold, who says he has never missed a regular commission meeting, will devote his extra hours to new endeavors, like volunteering for the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center or joining the Rotary Club. He also will spend time with his wife and three children and continue to train for triathlons.

Before winning his Safety Harbor commission seat in 2005, Steingold ran unsuccessfully for state representative and county judge. Now, he predicts he'll seek another elective office, alluding to countywide aspirations.

"Politics is kind of like jumping rope," he said. "You have to know when to jump in and when not to jump in."

For all the ups and downs in his years of service, Steingold's Safety Harbor experiences were not without a little bit of fun. A few years ago, when people believed City Hall was haunted, Steingold called in to a radio show to talk about ghosts.

In the middle of the chat, his phone went dead.

"That," he said, "was kind of cute."

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com.

>>if you go

Wish them well

• Mayor-elect Joe Ayoub and Commissioner-elect Richard Blake will be sworn in at the City Commission meeting Monday. It starts at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 750 Main St.

• Destination Tampa Bay magazine holds a reception in honor of Ayoub and in appreciation of outgoing Mayor Andy Steingold. The reception runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, 105 N Bayshore Drive. The free event features hors d'oeuvres, music and a cash bar. Go to destinationtampabay.com/rsvp to RSVP by Jan. 16.

Outgoing Safety Harbor mayor led through difficult times 01/05/13 [Last modified: Saturday, January 5, 2013 2:51pm]
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