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Silent race ready for some noise

Former Commissioner David "Hap'' Clark added a spark when he entered the District 4 race, but has struggled. Incumbent Steve Simon expects that to change.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

The big splash caused by David "Hap" Clark when he entered the race for County Commission has been followed by only some small ripples.

A little more than a week before the Sept. 10 Democratic primary race against County Commissioner Steve Simon, 80-year-old Clark is moving steadily in low gear.

Compared to big war chests in the past, Clark, 80, has raised $17,402 in contributions as of Aug. 16. All but $1,900 came from himself. Port Richey Casino Inc., which bought its property from Clark, gave him $300. The rest came from two developers and a dentist.

Two years ago, he raised a little more than $58,000 in his bid for tax collector in the Democratic primary. Candidates in this year's primary elections have one more week to file the final campaign contribution totals.

While Simon has posted 4-foot-by-8-foot signs around the county, Clark's small signs appear to be limited to yards. Simon has sent out two mailings of campaign literature. Clark sent a flier to absentee voters, failing to mention what he's running for and misspelling the word "qualifications."

He already has admitted to making mistakes on his financial disclosure forms -- forgetting to account for more than $200,000 -- which prompted a complaint by one resident to the state Commission on Ethics.

"It would almost appear like he doesn't have anyone experienced helping him," said Mike Cox, the former head of the Pasco County Democratic Party and who is advising Simon in the race.

Michael Corcoran, Clark's adviser in his unsuccessful race two years ago against Tax Collector Mike Olson, has donated $500 to Simon's campaign.

Clark did not return repeated phone calls.

Cox is not ruling out Clark's campaign zeal.

"I fully (expect) that he'll run a full-blown professional campaign" in the time remaining, Cox said. "I'm not getting caught with my pants down."

Clark's campaign expenditure reports show he has spent money on signs and bought a sign bond each from the cities of Port Richey and New Port Richey. Cox expects to see the results in the next week.

In Clark's last race two years ago, he caused quite the stir early by deciding against a reelection bid in favor of a run against long-time friend Olson. Olson had angered him for not supporting his initial plans to seek reelection to the County Commission.

Clark and his wife supplied several former tax collector employees with the necessary forms to file complaints against Olson with the state Commission on Ethics, accusing him of emotional abuse and of running political campaigns on state time.

Olson sued Clark, asking $1-million for defamation. The lawsuit is pending.

Olson routed Clark at the polls by a 3-1 ratio.

Later, the ethics commission tossed out the complaints against Olson as "legally insufficient."

Clark is facing his own ethics complaint filed earlier this month by New Port Richey resident Jeannette Doenges for Clark's failure to account for more than $200,000 in assets and misstating his net worth. Clark admitted the error, saying he completed the forms himself before getting his accountant and campaign treasurer to amend them.

Clark has told the St. Petersburg Times he decided to run for County Commission because he thought he did a good job helping constituents get appointments with the county administrator during his eight years in office from 1992-2000 and that he understands county operations.

Some of his former supporters in the Pasco Democratic Party think his time has passed and oppose his running against Simon, a first-term commissioner and former real estate instructor whom they laud for leadership on impact fees for schools.

"People are cooler to (Clark's) candidacy than they have been in the past," Cox said.

But their opinion of him hasn't stopped Clark from campaigning, though low key, including at various neighborhood candidate forums.

Simon would not comment about Clark. Since Aug. 16, Simon has raised $45,280 from a cross-section of lawyers, real estate brokers, individuals and developers.

Simon says he hopes voters in other parties realize they can vote in this election.

Because there is no Republican opponent, the race will be decided in the Democratic primary. That means all registered Pasco voters, including Republicans, can cast a vote for either Clark or Simon. Though the two candidates must live in Commission District 4, they are elected by voters throughout the county.

Hugh Townsend, chairman of the Pasco County Republican Party, says his phone bank operators, spread for the first time across three countywide offices instead of one, have been reminding registered voters that they can participate in the Democratic primary election between Simon and Clark when making calls to urge them to vote.

"It's a reminder, but we're not endorsing one or the other," Townsend said.

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