COLLIER COUNTY — On Sunday morning, Gina Downs was dealing with a computer that crashed, a grandson who was undergoing surgery, and attempting to prepare for Monday morning’s announcement that she will seek the Collier County Commission District 2 seat.
It is currently occupied by Commissioner Frank Halas, 68, who decided not to seek a third term of office in the November 2010 election.
But none of Sunday’s concerns were evident Monday. Surrounded by friends and supporters — including Halas — Downs reminisced about some of her accomplishments.
Downs, 53, was a force behind Collier’s opposition to tolling Interstate 75, and the state’s proposed privatization and sale of Alligator Alley. She also helped to wrangle a traffic light at U.S. 41 and Woods Edge Parkway, which some residents had said was a dangerous intersection.
Behind the scenes, Downs is a member of the county’s Productivity Committee.
“When I fight government, I fight fairly,” Downs said. “Nobody fought harder against Florida Department of Transportation and the plan for Alligator Alley than me. But, we parted friends ... FDOT employees were not our enemy. They were just employees carrying out a directive, plain and simple.”
Animosity is neither desirable nor necessary, she said.
“I have worked with, advised and challenged local government. Mostly successfully. Always respectfully,” said Downs, who has lived in the Villages of Emerald Bay as a permanent resident since 2006.
Mentored by Halas, and a Florida Association of Counties student, Downs said her learning curve as a commissioner will be a hill, not a mountain.
Attorneys Joe Foster and Georgia Hiller are also running for the District 2 seat.
With an undergraduate degree in economics from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, Downs returned to her native Maryland to work toward a master’s degree in business administration from Frostburg State University. However, she couldn’t complete her studies as she was taking care of her parents, who died within two years of each other.
She’s worked as a printer, computer systems manager, owned a home improvement business, and taught economics.
She and her husband Art Shanklin have both done their share of volunteering.
In addition to their shared passion for the American Heart Association, Downs has been involved with Collier County libraries, 1000 Friends of Florida, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Everglades Foundation, St. Matthew’s House, David Lawrence Center, Guadalupe Center and Avow Hospice.
Downs and Shanklin have three children and eight grandchildren, including Robert, 21, who is recovering from surgery nicely, Shanklin said.