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Transsexual not picked for city manager spot

Steve Stanton
After announcing plans for a sex change operation, Largo City Manager Steve Stanton pleads for his job last March 23 at a city commission meeting. He was later fired.Craig Litten / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Steve Stanton was fired as city manager in Largo two months ago after announcing his plans to become Susan Stanton. On Wednesday, Stanton, wearing a white skirt, pumps and makeup, applied for the top job in this more cosmopolitan tourist town, and was turned down.

The Sarasota city commissioners instead picked another one of the five candidates. Stanton was their third choice.

Stanton and the commissioners had no immediate comment on the decision, which came after all five candidates for city manager were interviewed separately at an open meeting.

During the interview, the commissioners hesitated to bring up the one topic on nearly everyone's mind — Stanton's plans to undergo sex change surgery someday soon and complete the process started when Stanton recently began living as a woman.

So Stanton brought it up.

Stanton, 48, said that having a transsexual city manager would not be as disruptive as they might think. She said that the recuperation time for a sex change operation is minimal and that she would soon step back from the national spotlight.

"It's a legitimate concern and hopefully I've addressed it," Stanton said after the interview. "I have taken the initiative to throw it out and maybe remove it from the table."

Fired after 14 years
Earlier this year, the Largo City Commission voted 5-2 to fire Stanton from the $140,000-a-year job after 14 years of generally excellent evaluations. Hundreds of people for and against transsexual rights packed the chambers, and dozens of police officers were posted to keep the peace. In the end, commissioners said it was Stanton's judgment and honesty, not the sex change, that prompted their decision.

Things were much calmer in Sarasota, about 50 miles south of Largo on Florida's southwestern coast.

Largo, with a population of 76,000, is a working-class community in the Tampa Bay area. Sarasota's 54,000 residents are generally more affluent, and the community is a tourist destination with a thriving arts scene.

Sarasota is the home of New College of Florida, a liberal arts school where the 750 students take classes without grades and design their own curriculum. It is also home to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which has a collection of Old Masters bought by the circus tycoon.

Sarasota is also where Stanton spent much of her secret life as Susan before going public, spending several weekends a year there dressed in women's clothing.

No one spoke against Stanton at Wednesday's meeting. A few police officers watched over the few citizens who sat through the one-hour interviews with the job candidates, who included top administrators from Orlando and other Florida cities, as well as Arizona.

"We need to put a little pepper in the atmosphere," said Sarasota resident Gwen Calloway, 70, who supported Stanton. "She has the background. She can start running instead of walking. She has proved she's accomplished."

Nevertheless, the five commissioners voted later Wednesday to hire Robert Bartolotta, 59, who resigned as city manager of Jupiter in 2004 to care for his terminally ill wife. She has since died. Their second choice was Marsha Segal-George, 54, a deputy chief administrator in Orlando.

Highly visible candidate
Stanton, whose large biceps stand out when she wears short-sleeve dresses, said before the vote that she did not believe the sex change would be a factor in the city's decision. And she said many residents stopped her to express support as she explored the city in the days leading up to Wednesday's vote.

"Not a single person has focused on what I wear, the type of shoes I have on or the type of necklace I am wearing. It's just not an issue," Stanton said before the vote.

Stanton, the father of a teenage son, said the intense media scrutiny made the Sarasota interview cumbersome. A scrum of cameras and reporters made her easy to spot at a crowded Tuesday night reception for the candidates. A photographer followed her to the threshold of the women's restroom.

The scrutiny is "part of the price of admission," Stanton said before the vote.

"The job of a city manager, while critical, is extremely uninteresting," she added. "I am pretty confident that within two or three weeks the media is going to find something that is a real story. But not this. This is silly."