Some enlightened person once said that wisdom comes from experience. True enough – employers look for experience when hiring candidates for jobs. And societies around the globe revere their elders’ knowledge.
Bud Elias, 81, has just that – experience. He’s lived in Clearwater for 43 years, and you have to applaud a person willing to engage in elective office at any age.
That’s not to mean Elias is unfamiliar with the inner workings of city government. He twice served on the Clearwater Charter Review committee, served as Chair of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, board member of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and President of Leadership Pinellas, to name just a few. The list goes on and on and on.
Elias grew up in a little town in Illinois with his entire extended family nearby. His family – grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – gathered every Sunday to enjoy a big chicken dinner. “It was a great way to grow up,” he mused.
He and his wife, Ann, have been married 54 years and raised two boys – one of which now lives in Chicago and the other in California – and have two grandchildren. “I don’t see them often enough,” he added.
Elias earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and his master’s degree from Southern Illinois University. After graduate school he received an internship from the Ford Foundation to work in the Illinois State Legislature as an legislative intern, and subsequently served as a consultant to two Legislative commissions. He said he learned more in one year working in the state legislature than in his entire two and a half years of graduate school.
“I learned all about human nature,” he said. “I learned about integrity and honesty when I observed some very unethical behavior.”
Elias goes to work every day, as he has for the past 30-something years, to his business, an insurance brokerage specializes in the application of life insurance, retirement planning and Medicare. He sold his Health insurance division a year ago this past January.
Why does he keep on working? “I need a place to go,” he laughs. His office is right off U.S. 19 by Countryside Mall, near his home. He works out four times a week at CrossFit and has gone running regularly for 60 years.
Elias is a regular attendee of City Council meetings. When compared to the cities of Tampa and St. Pete he cites that not much is happening in downtown Clearwater. “I am tired of Clearwater being the third rung on the ladder of growth and opportunity, he says. “When the city began looking into creating Beachwalk, people said we shouldn’t do it. Now, years later look what we have on the beach – a jewel! Clearwater needs to develop a positive attitude instead of a negative attitude.”
“I am pro-amphitheater. The naysayers have said in the past that the beach was overbuilt. They say we can’t do this, we can’t do that. I’ve been a long time on the outside looking in, but something else has to happen. We have to have an asset for the city. For the amphitheater, we need to make sure we get the best equipment and to do it right the first time.
“I have two degrees in Political Science,” says Elias. “Because of my business background and my community experience I have elected to seek a position on the city council. I want to do it now or or I will never get another opportunity to do so.”
Elias says Ann is his best friend. “My wife and I have had a date day every Saturday religiously since forever. I enjoy being with her even if it’s just for a cup of coffee. We like to just take a drive somewhere or go to the mall or have dinner on Saturday night.”
They have breakfast once a week, every week at Clear Sky on Clearwater Beach. And they travel. They like France for the food, Britain for the cathedrals.
“I know where I come from now,” he laughs. “My nose is identical to those stone faces on the English crypts.” Their favorite place is the Amalfi Coast in Italy where they once stayed on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean with a beautiful panoramic vista.
Elias travels locally, too, visiting neighborhoods to listen to peoples’ concerns. “For instance, there is a fire department in Countryside, but no rescue department,” he says. “If there’s a wreck on U.S. 19 and all the surrounding fire departments are converging, there’s no one left to help anyone who might be having a heart attack in Countryside. The residents are vulnerable. HOAs say we need to address that.”
Elias was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the fire department and the Pinellas Board of Realtors. “I’m very humbled,” he says. “I have heard from people I don’t even know. This race has been an amazing experience for me and I’m very fortunate to have met people who are good, kind and caring. In an elected position, you have a chance to make a difference. You have to have the ability to say what you think. If elected, there should be little or no learning curve. I have 43 years of experience versus the six collective years [of some of my opponents in Seat 3]. You get to know people, their concerns and every-day issues. When we hire a new city manager and city attorney, are we going to retain the current manager and attorney in that process? I hope so. We need their expertise when we make these decisions and I personally know both of them.”
He knocks on doors and says that for every home where people peer through their opaque doors, turn away and don’t answer, there are five houses where everyone comes to the door. He enjoys the fact that people are so nice. He hears concerns that there is no transparency in our city government or fiscal responsibility.
Elias also is disappointed in all the studies the city conducts. “I wish I had $1 for every study the city has done,” he says. “We need to do something and not put it off. Let’s make it happen. The city puts the studies into a closet and then brings that same study out after a few years, brushes the dust off, says it’s obsolete and a new study has to be done.”
Elias believes people need a reason to go downtown and right now, there is no reason. “You need a destination, such as Imagine Clearwater, but we need to know how to sustain the park for the next 50 years,” he says. “We need private developers so we can rely on their expertise. If there was a well-known steak house in downtown Clearwater people would patronize that destination. The right people can make a difference and make things happen. We need something distinctive. We need to appeal to both residents and tourists.”
And Scientology? “We need transparency and trust [with both the city and Scientology] to make the city better.”
As far as leading the strong mayor initiative that was voted down by a citywide referendum in 2018, he says, “Being for the strong-mayor initiative is hardly a criticism. We should allow anyone to express their views and opinions. We’ve talked for years about changing the city’s form of government. We finally decided to make it happen. If that’s the worst that someone has to say about me, then so be it.”