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Why are so many itchin' for this job?

The salary for mosquito control commissioner is small but comes easy. Six people want the post.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002

ODESSA -- Why all the fuss over an elected office that aims to keep tabs on blood sucking swamp bugs?

Maybe, just maybe, it's the money.

A seat on the Pasco County Mosquito Control Commission pays $4,800 a year for a workload that entails little more than one monthly meeting that lasts an hour or two.

One spot on the nonpartisan three-member commission is open this year. Competing for that single seat is a swarm of six candidates, four of whom have raised more than $1,000 for the honor of eradicating the bloodsuckers.

Among them is perennial mosquito commission wannabe Carl Sandberg, 58, a Wal-Mart hardware department employee from New Port Richey.

Sandberg first got the campaign bug in 1996, when he finished 16th in a field of 21 candidates that included an Elvis impersonator and a big-band singer. His showing improved in 1998 and 2000.

This year, he's juiced up his campaign with a slogan: "I'll go the extra mile to kill the Nile," a reference to the mosquito-borne West Nile virus.

"I'm tired of coming in second. I think I'm going to come in first," said Sandberg, who has put up 200 signs paid for with $1,244 in contributions.

Sandberg's fundraising can't touch newcomer Gus Martinez, a United Parcel Service truck driver from New Port Richey who has raised $1,950.

Or the $1,275 raised by Jimmy Bishop, a Hudson resident who lists among his occupations construction worker, lab technician and hair stylist.

The other challengers are Tom Ketterer of Land O'Lakes and Finlay Townsend of Port Richey. On his campaign application, Townsend, a former prison guard, volunteers that he's "6 feet 3 1/2 inches, 240 pounds" and "married with four children and living at home with my wife."

The incumbent and only woman in the race is Rosemary Mastrocolo, who admits that she's benefitted from name recognition: Her husband is former Port Richey City Council member Joe Mastrocolo.

"I'm 69 years old and I've got five guys after me," she says of the competition for her seat.

Mastrocolo's main accomplishment after 10 years in office? She mentions voting to hire part-time workers during peak mosquito season.

Mastrocolo scoffs at opponents who have held fundraisers. For her part, she has accepted a donation only from a family friend, a local funeral home director.

"Four of my five opponents have never been to a mosquito meeting," she said. "One has to wonder: Is it the money they're running for?"

Candidates deny the race is about the $400 monthly paycheck. Sandberg's answer is typical: "It's a way of giving back to the community. You couldn't live on $4,800 a year."

Yet compensation is generous considering the short hours. The commissioner attends only a monthly meeting north of State Road 54 in Odessa, leaving almost all the bug blasting to the mosquito district's 21 staff members.

The $2.5-million district, concentrated in the southwestern half of the county, commands a mosquito-spraying fleet of a twin-engine airplane, two helicopters, 20 trucks and two boats.

When you talk to the professionals, you get the impression that they appreciate a minimum of meddling from the commission, particularly over matters of bug biology.

"We're really, really high tech, and they have their own careers," district entomologist Doug Wassmer said. "For them to hone in on the minutia would be too much for them."

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