SAFETY HARBOR — The 2021 Safety Harbor municipal election field offered someone for everyone.

With seven contenders — including men and women, political newcomers and veterans — vying for three open seats, this election allowed voters to pick a candidate who best aligned with their viewpoint.

And by the time the polls closed March 9, it was clear who the residents wanted to see on the City Hall dais. Incumbents Nancy Besore and Cliff Merz retained their Seats 1 and 2, respectively, while former mayor Andy Steingold won a hotly contested battle for Seat 3 against former commissioner Scott Long, according to the unofficial results posted on the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website.

“It’s exciting,” Steingold said of reentering the local political scene following a four-year absence while he was packing up his campaign signs outside the Safety Harbor Library shortly before the polls closed. “People were really very supportive of me running and when you have that it basically energizes you to run. If people weren’t as excited, I wouldn’t have got back out there. Because without the public support, what are you running for?”

Based on the results, the majority of voters supported Steingold returning to office. He garnered 2,411 votes to Long’s 1,731, and the attorney said he plans to “take bits and pieces from everyone who has supported me over the years and form it into a vision for Safety Harbor. I think the city is going to continue to progress and it’s up to the commission to take an active role in how the city progresses. I think enough people have a vision and want that quaintness, and it’s all about preserving it. It’s not always about development but the quality of life for our residents.”

Long, who served one year on the commission before losing the Seat 1 race to Besore in 2018, said he was “obviously disappointed” with the results but he credited Steingold’s camp for showing up at the polls.

“Obviously I was up against an extremely difficult opponent,” Long said from his watch party at Coastal Cantina. “I mean, Andy has never lost an election in Safety Harbor, and he still has a very strong name recognition, and he got the voters out and I respect that. Obviously, I’m disappointed but I learned after the last loss that there’s other ways I can serve Safety Harbor and that will not only continue but I will do even more going forward. This is the most amazing city I’ve ever lived in and the election results won’t change that. So, I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing to keep Safety Harbor strong.”

The other races featured a mix of political novices and veterans, with the experienced politicians winning out. Besore, a retired teacher who’s served on the commission from 2009-2014 and 2018 to the present, earned 1,799 votes to 1,461 for urban planner Lorraine Duffy Suarez and 859 for Heather Norton, an OB-GYN with no previous political experience. Despite the loss, Norton said she treasured the experience.

“For me it was the first time getting involved with local politics, and it was a great educational process,” Norton said from outside the library. “As an OB-GYN I don’t get out much, so this was a great experience for me, and it’s been wonderful having my children involved and seeing how government works. They’re engaged and involved and they’re loving the sign waving! So, it’s been a gift to me.”

While newcomer Liz Lindsay lost by 371 votes to longtime incumbent Merz, 2,225 to 1,854, she also said she enjoyed running in her first commission race.

“Since I’m running against an incumbent it was a learning experience,” Lindsay said outside the library, adding she “tried to get out there and meet a lot of people and hear a lot of viewpoints.”

Regarding the nastiness that often accompanies local elections, Lindsay said “I think this was a nice, friendly campaign and everyone was cordial. I can honestly say I was scared but I was happy I participated because I think everyone wants positive things for Safety Harbor and to keep it unique.”

To that point, Steingold said he would focus on being positive despite the history of rancor in town.

“I’m going to be professional. No nastiness,” he said. “People in this town need to be heard, but they also need to be treated respectfully.”