INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Moston Kennedy recently announced her intention to run for Pinellas County Commission in 2024.

The District 1 seat is currently occupied by Janet Long, who reportedly won’t run again. Kennedy is the second candidate — after real estate developer Chris Scherer — to announce a run for the at-large district, which starts at Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs down to St. Pete Beach.

Kennedy, who currently lives just outside the district, was first elected to the Indian Rocks City Commission in 1999 and began serving a third two-year term as mayor in March. She started thinking of running for county office after making a presentation to the county commission last year, Kennedy said.

“I had to do a presentation last fall, and I interviewed several commissioners, and it was incredibly interesting to hear their takes and philosophies on the job,” Kennedy said soon after announcing her county commission bid on May 3.

“It gave me a great insight into what the job entails on a daily basis,” she added. “I realized the (city and county) positions have a lot of crossover.”

Kennedy, who is scheduled to complete a course in Public Policy and Mass Media at St. Pete College with a degree in public policy and public administration in December, credits her parents for instilling in her a desire to help others through public office.

“My dad taught government for 30 years and he taught me everything about campaigning, although things have certainly changed since then,” she said. “I am a fighter, and everyone knows that. I don’t always win, but I fight till the end, and that’s something that was instilled in me by both parents.”

To that point, Kennedy acknowledged she’s got “some big challenges ahead.” But she claims living outside of District 1 isn’t one of them.

“I live eight blocks away, so when I win, I look forward to moving into the district,” Kennedy said.

Born in Clearwater, Kennedy lived in Largo for 15 years and has spent the past 35 years in Indian Rocks Beach, where she owns a hair salon in the Narrows section of town.

“I have plenty of time to find a new place and start a new chapter and my salon will stay open,” she said. “I just won’t be there as much.”

It’s been a whirlwind few months for Kennedy, and hot issues such as short-term rentals, beach erosion and red tide, have led to trips to Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee to advocate on behalf of the barrier island communities. 

“I would have fought for STRs (short-term rentals) and Indian Rocks Beach no matter what,” said Kennedy, a longtime member of the Barrier Island Governmental Council and Forward Pinellas.

But she said holding a countywide office would allow her to advocate for residents on a larger scale.

“I knew when I went to Tallahassee to fight the short-term rental bill that it was a big step for me,” she said. “It’s a big change, but everyone has been so positive and excited to know that they’re going to have someone they know and have a relationship with representing them, someone who will do whatever it takes to do a good job for our community and for the county.”