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Hagan becomes front-runner in three-way race

The Republican came out of nowhere politically to beat three community leaders and win his party's nomination.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 27, 2002

CROSS CREEK -- Why is Ken Hagan the favorite to win north Hillsborough's County Commission election?

CROSS CREEK -- Why is Ken Hagan the favorite to win north Hillsborough's County Commission election?

He's the Republican nominee for a seat that his party has retained easily for 10 years.

His campaign contributions totaled $99,000 at last count, with more flowing in. That's more than double the money raised by his Democratic rival, Ron Dyser.

Hagan has been endorsed by the politically active Builders Association of Greater Tampa and has received more than $22,000 from the real estate and development industry alone.

With a platoon of friends and relatives, Hagan has mounted a door-to-door campaign that boasts of reaching 15,000 homes.

Perhaps most noteworthy, Hagan came out of nowhere politically to achieve all this.

Two years ago, he was little known even in New Tampa, where he has lived for nine years. He had obtained a master's degree in business and traded stocks from home since being fired in a fraud scandal at Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. in 1994.

Then last year, Hagan decided to become a county commissioner. He began beefing up his resume.

That January, he got a job marketing the services of KMPG, a major accounting firm. That April, he floated his candidacy before the New Tampa Republican Club. That July, he joined the huge Idlewild Baptist Church and was named to his only civic board position, for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. By last November, Hagan had quit KMPG to campaign full time.

On Sept. 10, he received 34 percent of the Republican vote, winning the primary over three rivals who had been community leaders in Lutz and New Tampa.

"All of the work walking neighborhoods has paid off," Hagan, 35, said on primary night.

Some of Hagan's most die-hard supporters have known him since Carrollwood Elementary School. Others are relatives in a family that has grown in Tampa for generations.

Hagan's niche in this network often was rooted in sports, especially baseball.

"We played with a lot of guys who went on to the major leagues," said lawyer Paul Sisco, a boyhood friend. "Guys like Tino Martinez (of the St. Louis Cardinals). Ken could out-hit Tino."

Hagan played for Hillsborough Community College and the University of Florida, but injuries ended his career.

After graduating from Florida in 1989, Hagan hired on with Met Life. He soon became sales manager in one of the most profitable insurance offices anywhere. But in 1993, state investigators accused Met Life of fraudulently selling insurance policies as retirement investments.

The state administratively charged Hagan and at least 85 other employees with insurance fraud. But Hagan's case was dropped after seven months when investigators could not find a witness. Hagan contends the sales practices were above-board and legal.

But Met Life effectively shut down the Tampa sales operation. The company paid $20-million in fines to various states and offered refunds totaling $76-million.

In his campaign, Hagan has touted his business experience. He has pledged to apply cost-benefit analysis to county spending and customer-service values to his constituents.

"You're going to see a level of constituent service that's unprecedented," he says.

He can't say the same for party unity. None of the Republicans Hagan defeated last month has endorsed him.

Denise Lasher, the runner-up with 26 percent of the vote, is suing Hagan over a ninth-hour flier mailed by a close Hagan supporter. The flier accused Lasher of supporting $1-billion in transportation taxes, which she said she opposed.

Denise Layne, who received 15 percent of the vote, has criticized Hagan as easily manipulated by conservative power-broker Sam Rashid. Rashid and several associates have given Hagan $6,500. Layne's top supporters have switched to Dyser.

Hagan, she said, "is an empty suit. He's a pawn in a bigger picture, and that picture is Sam Rashid."

Hagan said he is his own man.

"Basically, I'm a big-tent type of guy, and I want everyone's support."

The Republican came out of nowhere politically to beat three community leaders and win his party's nomination.

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