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Dyser's past is filled with high points and low

An entrepreneur grew up in poverty, worked up to owning a company, filed for bankruptcy then put himself back on track.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002

CARROLLWOOD -- The county's indigent health care plan took a beating from County Commission candidates in recent months.

But not from Ron Dyser. "I believe in the indigent health care plan very, very deeply," he says.

Perhaps because Dyser, alone among the District 2 candidates, grew up indigent.

When his mother and stepfather couldn't care for him, he bounced from home to home among friends and relatives. He remembers living in Tampa's Robles Park public housing complex and never owning pajamas. A football coach and a newspaper route sustained him through high school.

Today Dyser is running for office in a three-man field where he easily is the quickest to accept government as a problem-solver. He praises the county's law enforcement and financial status and compliments the region's water plans. He is most open to impact fees and gas taxes to improve roads and other revenue sources for needs such as the health care plan.

"We certainly need to take care of those who are less fortunate than us," Dyser said recently.

Dyser worked with a vengeance after graduating from Jefferson High School in 1963. He completed a four-year plumbing apprenticeship and soon was a superintendent for the local union. "He worked day and night," said Pete Busto, who hired Dyser away from the union. "He was a hell of a hard worker. He didn't put up with any nonsense."

With Busto's endorsement, Dyser started his own company in the mid 1970s. He signaled his intentions by buying a sign atop the Buccaneers' stadium.

"He was a tough competitor," Busto said. "He didn't care who he would bid against. He would just go for the business."

Dyser Plumbing mushroomed to nearly 150 employees and more than $7-million in annual revenues. Dyser bought homes in Carrollwood Village, Indian Rocks Beach and North Carolina. He joined the University Club and the Latin-dominated Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago. (Dyser's wife, Sylvia Salgado Dyser, is Hispanic.)

Then the success began unraveling.

A recession hit around 1980 and construction slowed. Dyser compensated by expanding into heating and air-conditioning. But when the economy revved back up, larger competitors moved in. Dyser lost more than $1-million on hospital projects in St. Petersburg and Tampa. He stopped bidding in a move to control his company's bleeding finances, but that worsened cash flow.

On Dec. 22, 1984, Dyser's house was burned down. He blamed four disgruntled employees, and at least one served an arson sentence. Dyser bought a new home for $286,000.

It would be the only property he could keep. Debts triggered some 60 lawsuits, against Dyser or his company. He darted twice into bankruptcy court to save his house from the IRS.

His business attorney, David Steen, said Dyser could have avoided many of those troubles by promptly taking his company into bankruptcy in 1983. But Dyser held on for 11 years.

"At the time, it would have been very easy, but Ron had a moral problem with that," Steen said. "For many years, he has been using money he earned to pay off that debt."

Dyser Plumbing spent seven months in bankruptcy before emerging in 1995. Dyser said he has repaid $1.2-million in debts, leaving $100,000 more. He has resumed shopping at Burdines, instead of Kmart.

He was the lone Democrat to enter the race this summer for north Hillsborough's open seat on the County Commission. It's a district that elected Republican Jim Norman for 10 years, and where Republicans form a growing plurality of voters. Dyser's campaign treasury is less than half that of Republican Ken Hagan, who was nominated with 34 percent of the vote in a four-person race.

Like most Democrats, Dyser has received contributions from several unions. And Tampa's Latin community appears to account for a good third of Dyser's donations.

Dyser's rocky career left some hard feelings among plumbers, and Busto is one of the few contributing to the campaign. The local plumbers' union has given $500 to Hagan's campaign.

"I think I've got a tremendous amount more of street education than anybody running," Dyser said. "I think I've got more business sense. I've got more compassion."

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