Community activist pushes Clearwater ‘establishment’ in race for city council

CLEARWATER — Maranda Douglas stood before the lectern in the city council chambers Jan. 20 and warned the Clearwater political establishment not to count her.

Days earlier, Councilor Hoyt Hamilton had chastised campaign decorum related to the three-way race to fill his Seat 5, which he will vacate due to term limits after the March 15 election. In doing so, he made a confirmation from the podium in the other contested race, Seat 4, declaring it would be “an absolute farce” if voters did not re-elect incumbent Councilor David Allbritton.

For Douglas, who challenges Allbritton at No. 4, it was another demonstration of the well-connected, well-funded status quo telling the voting public what’s good for them. It was another thumb on the scale from “the good old boy circle,” an influence that has kept people of color like her from running for office for decades, she said.

“As I continue my campaign for City Council, I want to remind you that the misrepresentation in the current council is indeed a farce,” said Douglas, 31, the all-white, all-50-year-old, one-woman councilor.

“Look at me,” she said. “I’m a young black woman and I know what it feels like to be overlooked, marginalized and left unheard. Unlike my opponent, I have demonstrated my commitment to public service by rolling up my sleeves, boots on the ground, sometimes holding a baby, and bringing solutions to underrepresented communities in Clearwater.”

Douglas’ platform focuses on helping small businesses, making the city more responsive to climate change, and pushing for affordable housing. But her main priority is to help bring diversity of race and life experiences into advice that she said was largely inapplicable to much of the community.

In Clearwater’s history, 10 women have been elected to the city’s governing body and one has been appointed to fill a vacancy. Three blacks have served, the last in 1993.

“I don’t really see it as a win for myself,” Douglas said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “This will be a real win for the community if we can break down the barriers of the good old boy circle.”

Douglas, a small business owner and mother of a 4-year-old daughter, recognizes that beating an incumbent would be an accomplishment. Allbritton has raised $21,395 for his re-election so far, compared to her $8,433, according to the most recent treasurer’s reports filed in the first week of January. Retired technology specialist Gerry Lee, 74, is also running for Seat 4 and reported $1,000 in donations, all by himself.

Allbritton, a 71-year-old retired contractor, was born and raised in Clearwater and has been involved in city affairs through various boards for the past two decades. He said he supports corporations and developers, a shared connotation with the establishment, “because they bring jobs and help keep our taxes down.” He resists the idea that this means he doesn’t serve the needs of ordinary residents.

Allbritton was supported by the Political Action Committee of Amplify Clearwater (the city’s Chamber of Commerce) and the Pinellas Realtor Organization. But as she knocks on doors to meet voters, Douglas said she’s not sure this industry support really resonates with residents.

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Douglas grew up in Largo and discovered a passion for community service through her experience at the Greater Ridgecrest YMCA. She began volunteering at age 11 and later worked as a teen coordinator and helped develop summer camp programs.

She worked for Pinellas County Schools as a K-12 secretary in the math department before earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of South Florida in 2019.

As the volunteer executive director of the FYI Community Partnership, which focuses on the South Greenwood community in Clearwater, Douglas launched three mural and public art projects to help beautify the Lake Belleview and North Greenwood communities. In 2018 she founded Top Nauts, a marine services company that connects boaters with charters and boat ownership requirements.

When Councilor Kathleen Beckman ran for office in 2019, she volunteered for Douglas’ storm drain mural project. It opened Douglas’ eyes to local politics. She said activists who helped get Beckman elected, such as Marilyn Turman and Beth Davis, encouraged her to run for office.

But she said she gave serious thought to running for city council last year while she served on the city’s Marine Advisory Board. It felt like the input from local residents was an afterthought, she said, of how city officials selected the engineering firm to design the $18 million Clearwater Beach marina renovation without all the advisory board members attending companies commented.

As a council member, Douglas said she will urge the city to give developers more incentives to build affordable housing. She said she would serve as a reference for voters while championing these policies, noting that the rent she and her partner paid had increased from $1,450 to $1,640 during the pandemic.

In 2017, Capitol One Bank won a $2,700 judgment against Douglas over an unpaid credit card, a case that court records say is still open. Douglas said it’s a card she opened for groceries and gas years ago, where interest became unmanageable.

“I know how it feels to live on the edge of poverty,” she said.

Douglas said she wants to enact city ordinance changes to further protect residents from intrusive developments, such as: B. Requiring the city to give neighbors advance notice before voting on developments.

Regarding climate change and sea-level rise, Douglas said the city should be more proactive in improving seawalls and promoting a bike-sharing program to encourage residents to bike to work. It backs a deal with Cenergistic to reduce the city’s energy use, an agreement the council put forward for further study in December.

“What’s really important is that the community needs to feel like they have someone on their side who is listening to them and caring about them,” Douglas said.

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