By MELODY JAMESON
T’is the season…for good times, for grabbing attention, for giving. And, we’re not referring to the winter holidays.
Nope, it’s time for those local contests in which dollars add up to votes and everyone who gets involved gets a piece of the action…everyone…in some way.
From now to autumn, South County chambers of commerce are conducting their annual honorary mayor races, those highly competitive, often very creative contests that help fund each individual chamber’s activities through the year, produce substantial contributions for a whole heap of charities, raise business profiles and encourage community interaction.
From Apollo Beach to Riverview to Ruskin, the game is on and current candidates as well as candidates-to-be are calculating which approaches will garner the biggest contributions in the course of campaigns spanning several weeks to several months.
They’re joining a tradition now nearly a century old and keeping company with some big names. The honorary mayor concept is said by the Los Angeles Times to date to the Hollywood of the 1920s, an era of silent films and early talkies. Created by press agents much as Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Invasion was, the objective apparently was promoting the place.
It worked in both locales. Not only did the top-dog-in-name-alone races accomplish the objective, they tempted a number of high profile actors to throw their hats in small community mayoral rings across Southern California. Over the years, large and small screen notables ran to become honorary hizzoners, including Larry Hagman, Ted Knight, John Saxon, Dom DeLuise, Chevy Chase, Mark Harmon, Dick Van Patten and Steve Allen, all assuming the ceremonial role which returned no hard revenue. Of course, such competitions also attracted more controversial candidates, including the infamous and much disputed “Farley,” the dog.
In Apollo Beach at the moment, though, the biggest dispute is the contest for contributions ongoing between two mayoral candidates – CiCi Goodyear, manager of FiFi’s Resale Boutique, and Sheril Nanerella, who operates Hangover’s Boutique. The competition to become AB’s honorary mayor opened in mid-March and will continue through June 22, said Kevin Conlan, chamber board member.
Goodyear’s chosen charity to receive half of whatever she has in her war chest at the end of the race are the Shriner’s Hospitals while Nanerella is funneling 50 percent of her vote dollars to the American Red Cross, Conlan added.
With a few weeks yet to go, the title of AB mayor still is up for grabs, he noted, and any interested competitor living or working in the 33572 zip code can pick up the one-page entry application at the chamber’s office in the Mira Bay Shoppes. The office, 127 Harbor Village Lane, is open 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, he said.
The candidate with the greatest number of votes – read dollar donations – is to receive the symbol of office – an oversized key – during the chamber’s installation dinner on June 28, Conlan said, and perhaps get a few tips from outgoing AB Mayor Joel Brandenberg.
The race to become Riverview’s 2011 honorary mayor kicks off in mid-September with candidates participating in an actual tossing-the-hat-into-the-ring tradition, according to Tanya Dolan, chamber executive director. Any Riverview chamber member in good standing is eligible to get in the race, enjoying the friendly rivalry while also benefitting a bona fide not-for-profit charity along with his or her chamber, she added.
And, this year at least one new twist is under discussion within the mayoral race committee, Dolan noted. The 44-year-old chamber’s mayoral competition dates back to 1993 and successful candidates have been named on a permanent key plaque hung in the chamber office every year since. But this time, she said, another plaque also may be created as the honorary mayor’s personal memento. In addition, of course, the winning candidate can look forward to attending all the chamber events, cutting all the ribbons and smiling for all the photographers he or she can handle during the year as reigning chief executive.
The honorary mayor also receives free-of-charge a business card size advertisement promoting his or her enterprise in 12 monthly issues of the chamber newsletter as well as a no-charge insert in the publication, Dolan said.
Potential candidates can obtain an entry form listing their charity of choice at the chamber office, 10520 Riverview Drive, during usual business hours. Using any or all of a range of money-generating techniques – entertainment events, public meals, personal appearance appeals, collection canisters strategically placed, etc. – candidates will have the last quarter of the year to campaign.
The new honorary mayor of Riverview, an historic community which grew from a settlement first dubbed Peru (Pea-ru) on the south side of the Alafia River, will be named at the annual membership dinner in January when current Mayoress Jeanie Bush retires.
Before then, however, Ruskin chamber candidates to become honorary mayor there will be staging every clever means of getting campaign contributions they can devise. The Ruskin race opens July 9 with a pancake breakfast at Calvary Lutheran Church and continues through October 31, said Melanie Morrison, the chamber’s executive director. After a hard-fought campaign using every legal and honorable technique imaginable to get money, Ruskin’s honorary mayor for 2011 will be announced during the annual seafood festival set for November 6 and 7. The transition is symbolized with an oversized wooden key to the community, she added.
Ruskin members in good standing are eligible to enter the contest. Entry forms naming each candidate’s choices of legitimate charities to receive half of the contestant’s vote money are available in the chamber office on U.S. 41 in the center of the community, Morrison said.
As is customary, Ruskin’s next honorary mayor will attend chamber as well as community events and generally serve as the chamber’s ambassador during the term of office. The honorary chief executive also rides on the chamber float during the annual Veterans’ Day Parade sponsored by the Ruskin VFW post and sometimes serves as a judge in connection with other local competitions, Morrison added.
Becoming part of a community’s honorary mayor competition “is a great opportunity to actually get involved in that community” asserted Morrison, who assumed duties as Apollo Beach’s “her honor” for two years, 2004 and 2005. The then-25-year-old, who was the youngest honorary mayor in Hillsborough County, pointed out there are no losers in the mayor races because the process is enjoyable for the candidates as well as their communities, both the chambers and charities benefit financially, plus communities come together and new connections are made. “It is,” she concluded, “a wonderful way to make a difference.”
© 2010 Melody Jameson