When Mayor Andy Steingold first took office in 2006, the city of Safety Harbor was somewhat in disarray.
Scandals plagued the commission and the chamber of commerce; many roads and civic facilities were in need of repair; and there wasn’t a strong bond between the government and the community.
But Steingold didn’t view the situation he inherited as a burden; in fact, he welcomed adversity.
“I had always been challenged,” he said. “Nothing was ever easy.”
“But I believe public service is a privilege. It’s great to be able to give back to the community.”
As he prepares to depart his position on Monday due to his decision to run for circuit court judge last summer, Steingold sat down with Safety Harbor Patch to discuss his legacy in the city and his plans for the future.
From big city attorney to small town mayor
Born and raised in Florida, Steingold earned a degree in psychology from USF before graduating from Cumberland Law School in 1987.
After working for several firms as well as the state attorney’s office in Tampa, he married his wife, Maryanne, in 1999 and moved to Safety Harbor a year later.
“My wife and half her family lived here,” he said. “When she got pregnant with our first daughter, we knew it was time to move here from Tampa.”
Steingold quickly got involved with local politics, serving on the board of directors of the old museum before being elected to the city commission in 2005.
When then-mayor Pam Corbino stepped down in the wake of allegations of impropriety and his fellow commissioners recommended he take the position, he knew he had a big decision to make.
“I wasn’t planning on running when I came to Safety Harbor,” he said. “But after talking it over with my wife, we decided it was something we should do.”
Steingold would go on to be reelected three more times over the past seven years, most recently in March of 2007.
Overcoming adversity while including the community
Stepping into the role of leader of Safety Harbor wasn't easy for Steingold.
He had to crack what he referred to as a “good old gal” network of decision makers who meddled in every civic issue while at the same time excluding the public from the political process.
But Steingold was undaunted, and he was determined to improve the relationship between the government and the community.
“Right off the bat, a lot of the commissioners said ‘this will be business as usual’. But I didn’t get elected just to ‘go along to get along’.”
“I wanted to be very inclusive, not be part of that ‘good old gal’ network,” he said. "I believed in educating the public and being more inclusive so people feel part of the process, not excluded."
“I wanted to crack that network open and make everything open to everybody.”
Slowly, thanks to a lot of hard work and some head-butting with citizens and other commissioners, things began to change.
"There was a bad element there, but we forced it out," he stated.
The legacy of Mayor Steingold
From the outset Steingold was determined to rectify all the issues that had been neglected by the previous regime.
He either initiated or approved a number of changes in the city, including adding a traffic light at Briar Creek Boulevard, renaming Martin Luther King, Jr. Street and paving all the roads in town.
“When I got elected, these things were not politically attractive issues, so they had been swept under the carpet,” he said. “I began to address the gaps that had never been addressed.”
Steingold also made beautification a top priority; pushed for the grand tree ordinance; brought recycling in house; and oversaw the expansion of the library, the purchase of the new waterfront park property and the redesign of the Museum and Cultural Center, among other accomplishments.
“I didn't do everything I set out to do, but I think the city is a better place to live and work now.”
The end of the line?
The decision to run for Pinellas-Pasco circuit court judge in July, which meant relinquishing his position as mayor, wasn’t an easy one, according to Steingold.
But as difficult as it was, it was a choice he believed he had to make.
“My thought process was always…to create my own restrictions, to let somebody new serve.”
Steingold admitted he’s not sure what the future has in store for him, but it’s not like he doesn’t have enough things to keep him busy.
“I’m a husband, a dad, a coach, an attorney. I’ve got lots of activities going on. There’s no lull in my time,” he said.
Still, the love of public service plus the success he enjoyed helping reshape the city leaves him open to the possibility of a return to city government.
“I would anticipate in the future I will be running for public office again," he admitted. "I enjoy it, I enjoy the process of running and I really enjoy the privilege of public service."
Besides, he still feels he's got more to give to his community.
"I always thought when you run out of ideas, it's time to go," he said. "I've still got more ideas for the city of Safety Harbor."
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