Mayor Richard Lewis has been a vocal advocate for his hometown, but says his concerns go beyond the city limits.
BROOKSVILLE - Mayor Richard Lewis, a self-described Brooksville loyalist, aspires to exchange the City Council's chambers on Howell Avenue for the Hernando County government center on Main Street.
Though he hasn't filed candidacy papers yet, Lewis said Thursday he may leave city politics for what he called the lion's den - the District 5 seat now occupied by County Commission chairwoman Betty Whitehouse.
"My concern is for the entire county, not just Brooksville," Lewis said. "I think we have a pristine county that has been sold short. I think people are ready for a change."
Lewis decided to run for county office, he said, after he heard residents complaining about burgeoning taxes and residential development.
"The thing is how to handle taxes, and decide how to control growth," said Lewis, whose term as mayor expires in December 2004. "When you put a train on the right track, you could always change the engineer. The train keeps going in that direction."
Since being elected to the City Council in 1994 after a contentious recall vote, Lewis has been a forceful advocate for Brooksville. The 57-year-old retired U.S. postal worker led an unsuccessful legal battle to prevent the county from ending its 34-year contract with the city to provide fire services to Township 22, a 36-square-mile area outside the city's boundaries.
Lewis, a Republican, describes himself as a straight-shooter.
"I know who I am," he said. "I am honest with you. If you have a question, and I don't have the answer, I will tell you that I don't have the answer and go find it for you.
"I won't quiver my answer and change my opinion or vote because it's popular."
With the 2004 election for County Commission still a year away, Lewis joins several well-known public figures who have been lining up to unseat Democrat Whitehouse.
Lewis could face former County Commissioner Bobbi Mills, 62, and former Brooksville fire chief James E. Adkins, 54, in a Republican primary.
In the meantime, Lewis said his campaign hinges on his health. In April, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and has had successful surgery: no radiology, no chemotherapy. He has scheduled a checkup for next week.
"I want to have a clean bill of health to do the job mentally. I know I could do it physically," said Lewis, who has twice been elected mayor of Brooksville. "We need someone to come on there with a good positive attitude. This is 5percent ability, 95 percent common sense. Don't let people tell you otherwise."
And for those who believe that the mayor of Brooksville - a position that carries ceremonial authority and one vote in the City Council - has no business jumping ship, Lewis is resolute.
"Those strangers are, to me, just a friend that I haven't met yet," he said. "They just don't know Richard."
- Duane Bourne can be reached at 754-6114. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org