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00000174-121d-d47e-a1f7-523d2c950000 WUSF News regularly collaborates with University of South Florida journalism classes in Tampa and St. Petersburg, providing students an opportunity to share their work with the greater Tampa Bay area.Some of the projects have included:“Past Plates” - a podcast and written stories produced in Spring 2017 that look into people’s memories and traditions related to food, food culture and food business in south St. Petersburg. In fall 2016, students profiled candidates running for Tampa Bay area elected offices. They were produced as part of the USF Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications' Advanced Reporting or Public Affairs classes; and as part of the Media and Elections class at USF St. Petersburg’s Journalism and Mass Communications Department.In 2015, WUSF journalists joined the USFSP Neighborhood News Bureau in creating oral histories of residents of St. Petersburg's historic Midtown neighborhood. That work was featured on WUSF's Florida Matters public affairs show.

Elections 2016: Pinellas County Commission District 3 Candidate Mike Mikurak, Republican

Mike Mikurak

Something sounds familiar in Pinellas County this election season.   

Mike Mikurak, the Republican running for the only County Commission seat up for grabs, says “it’s time to put a businessman and not a politician in charge of our tax dollars.”

Age: 62    Education: Mercer County (N.J.) Community College, associate degree; Rider University, bachelor’s degree in business administration    Occupation: Retired businessman and consultant, civic activist    Political experience: None

Mikurak, 62, is the businessman, a first-time political candidate running against Democratic incumbent Charlie Justice, whom Mikurak calls a “career politician.” 

Justice served in the Florida Legislature from 2000 to 2010, first as a representative and then a senator. He was elected to the County Commission in 2012 and is now chairman.                    

Mikurak’s political convictions sometimes sound a lot like Donald Trump’s, and at times he doesn’t seem to mind the comparison.  During an Oct. 5 debate at the St. Petersburg College Seminole campus, Mikurak gave Trump a 9-out-of-10 ranking when asked to rate the presidential candidate of his party. 

Asked later what he admires about Trump, Mikurak said he is a “straight shooter and tells you what he thinks.”

He said Trump is focused on the “right issues of security, job growth and bringing jobs back to this country,” and he agrees with Trump that we need to “rebuild our military and be leaders of this world.”

Also during the debate, Mikurak said that the “real issue” causing Pinellas County’s recent problems where treated and raw sewage were released into Tampa Bay shows a “lack of leadership” in solving infrastructure problems.

“Unfortunately, I’m tired of studies,” Mikurak said. “Mr. Justice just explained it …some of our pipes are so old. Why haven’t we been maintaining what we have?”

Mikurak later said it does not make sense now to call a task force to study pipes that are breaking when there are already people who can figure out how to fix and maintain infrastructure.  This is a criticism of the direction the county recently took – on Justice’s recommendation – to convene a countywide task force to address sewer system problems. 

Mikurak said “this problem is not something new” and the county “should have been on top of this.” He said a task force might have been useful in the past.   

“I am skilled at getting through to the root issues of problems and recognizing hype and misdirection,” said Mikurak. “I will never pass the buck.”

Mikurak has also attacked his opponent over a $16.5 million court judgment against the County Commission for its rejection of a 246-unit luxury apartment complex with 25,000 square feet of office space in Safety Harbor.

“The County Commission overstepped its bounds,” said Mikurak during an Oct. 13 appearance with Justice at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon.

So far, Mikurak has raised $147,487 for his campaign and Justice $100,532. Mikurak has contributed about $37,000 to his own campaign.

Mikurak said he spent much of his career as a consultant to “Fortune 500 companies and below,” advising them on business strategies. He retired in 2003 – when he was 49 – from Accenture PLC, where he was a founding partner.

“My work with AT&T Wireless brought them from No. 4 to No. 1 in users buying their service,” said Mikurak.

His role was to “work with companies on a future vision they could measure and begin to implement right away,” he said, and this is what he wants to do as a county commissioner.

Mikurak has a ready smile and is generous with his time when making the rounds at campaign events.  He is laser-focused when he gets going on a subject he thinks is important.                                      

He says “it’s time to take our county back” when speaking at fundraisers.

“My opponent would like to say that I mean take the county back from Democrats and build a Republican majority. That’s not what I mean,” said Mikurak. “I am talking about giving the county back to the people.  It is time to treat taxpayers like customers who deserve the best value for the dollar.”

Mikurak, who was raised in New Jersey in a lower middle-class family, reported a net worth of $6,178,067 on his financial disclosure forms. He included a tax document showing he paid $454 in federal income tax in 2015.

Mikurak said there are several things to know when drawing conclusions about income tax payments, including the cumulation of many years of paying taxes.

“I have been retired since 2003 and my wife and I have been managing our finances based on our investments,” said Mikurak. “Now I’m giving back to the community and not being paid.”

Mikurak donates his time to organizations like St. Anthony’s Hospital, BayCare Health System, CareerSource Pinellas, the Juvenile Welfare Board and the Science and Technology Education Innovation Center.

Through USF CONNECT, a business and economic development arm of the University of South Florida, Mikurak provided advice to “a number of startup companies” about “strategic visioning, organizational setup and startup funding,” he said.  

In February, Mikurak received the Roy G. Harrell Jr. Leadership Award from St. Anthony’s Hospital for outstanding leadership and community service.

Mikurak said he left his longtime home in New Jersey in 1999 and moved to Florida because he loved its west coast and always wanted to be near the water.

His connection to Florida was through ownership of a condominium on Little Gasparilla Island in Charlotte County on the southwest coast. He said it was an excellent investment and he sold it a number of years ago.

Mikurak and his wife, Elaine, live in a high-rise condo on Beach Drive in St. Petersburg and have a second home in the North Carolina mountains. They have been married for 29 years and have a son,

Gregory Mikurak, 28. Their daughter, Tracy Procaccini, 42, and their son, Billy Veltri, 44, are

from Elaine’s first marriage. Procaccini has two young children. 

“Michael traveled Monday through Friday for most of our marriage, so we are really only on our second anniversary,” said Elaine.

“We were introduced by Michael’s sister,” she said.  “We had a great first date at a nice restaurant. We talked a lot and really connected.”      

Elaine said his friendliness caught her attention when Mikurak learned during their first date that he often traveled to an area in Texas where her parents lived. He asked if he could call them to say hello. 

There are a couple of things Elaine wants voters to know about her husband.

“When he gets his mind set to something, he can’t think about anything else until that project is finished. And my husband supports everything I do, just as I do for him,” she said.

Elaine donates time to St. Anthony’s Hospital and other organizations like Women With Purpose, the Woman's Service League and All Children’s Hospital Guild. In 2015, she was selected as a princess of the Queen’s Court Inc. in recognition of her community service.

“I hope Michael wins because it will help me get him out of the house,” Elaine joked.

Nancy McCann   is a student journalist attending the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s Journalism and Mass Communications Department. This story was produced as part of the Media and the Elections class this semester, under the leadership of instructor Robert Hooker.