By ANNA BRYSON
USFSP Student Reporter
SOUTH PASADENA – Gail Neidinger knows that being a city commissioner will not bring her fame (in a town of 5,000 people) or fortune (with a salary of $7,600.)
She says is running because she loves where she has lived in for 27 years and wants to see it prosper.
Neidinger does not stand out from her three opponents in the March 13 election by being loud or brash. She is generally low-key and likes to stress that success on the five-member commission comes from a dedication to teamwork.
“I feel it’s more important how you vote on issues that you discuss than whether or not you initiated it,” Neidinger said. “I think we all initiate things along the way and then we discuss it and vote on it.”
This is the first time that Neidinger, 66, a two-term commission veteran, has drawn opposition.
A graduate of Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., she worked at two telecommunications companies, Ascom Timeplex and Global Crossing, and the asset management firm T. Rowe Price.
Shortly after retiring, Neidinger became involved in city government six years ago when her neighbor, former Mayor Kathleen Peters, sold her on the idea of public service when a commissioner resigned in the middle of a term.
She had never worked for the government before, but she applied for the vacancy and was appointed.
“I really enjoy civil service, really giving back to the city that I live in,” said Neidinger. “I’ve learned a lot in the past six years.”
In her campaign, Neidinger cites her work supervising South Pasadena’s public safety department and her six years’ experience on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.
Last year she led a community group that helped select a new fire chief and director of public safety.
She is unofficially running in tandem with another candidate, Arthur Penny, because “we felt that it’s easier to run together since we have like issues.”
They both have been endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters.
Firefighters from the St. Petersburg Association, the IAFF Union Affiliate of firefighters from St. Petersburg, South Pasadena and Lealman have campaigned door to door for Neidinger.
“We worked with Gail over the last number of years and felt that she had the firefighters’ best interest,” said Rick Pauley, president of the IAFF Local 747.
“There are some things that need to be improved upon to improve the safety of the firefighters and also of the citizens.”
The current fire station is “out of whack,” said Neidinger and needs to be rebuilt.
She is active with the fire department. She attends their meetings and often goes to the station on weekends to talk with firefighters about their needs.
“It is really important to get a good place for those guys to live,” said Neidinger. “We need something that’s really liveable and allows them to get rest and exercise in an air-conditioned area and not be subjected to diesel fumes while they are exercising out in the garage.”
Pouring money into fixing the outdated fire station is senseless, Neidinger said.
Another highlight of Neidinger’s platform is to fill vacant buildings around the city with restaurants, stores and medical offices.
All four candidates embrace this goal in their campaigns, and Neidinger stresses the teamwork aspect in this endeavor.
“It’s not any one person alone,” she said. “The realtors who own the buildings really want people in (them) so they do most of the work. If there’s a way that we can change legislation or do something to make it attractive for people to come into our city, I think that’s something we want to do.”
One of Neidinger’s opponents is Dan Calabria, who as mayor in 2013-2016 often clashed with Neidinger and other commissioners.
Working with Calabria was “brutal,” Neidinger said, and it would be difficult to work with him again if they both are elected.
“This is a really nice city and we don’t need that (conflict) in our little city,” she said. “We don’t have huge issues like the larger cities do, and there’s no need to have that kind of behavior.”
She says she wants to win, but if she doesn’t she’ll still be happy in her beautiful house on the water in South Pasadena.
“If I lose, I lose, but I will not run a nasty campaign, a contentious campaign,” she said. “It’s not worth it, it’s not who I am.”