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Column

Sheriff's challenger faces history

By C.T. BOWEN
Published January 25, 2004

History shows that Darlene Greene already has one campaign under her belt, a race she won by buying votes.

She is a former honorary mayor of Land O'Lakes. Greene captured the crown - sash, actually - and yearlong ribbon-cutting duties by raising $5,600 for the then-Land O'Lakes Chamber of Commerce in 1996.

Earlier this month, she began her second quest for office. Greene, a Democrat, is the only announced challenger to incumbent Republican Sheriff Bob White.

Again, fundraising is a key. Greene figures she needs to raise and spend $100,000. But the campaign hit an immediate bump in the road.

Greene announced her candidacy on Friday, Jan. 9. Seventy-two hours later, the quarterly campaign finance reports became public and the Republican incumbent had raised $50,000 including contributions from Pasco's old-guard Democrats - Marcelino Oliva, Ted Williams and Clyde Hobby.

Ouch.

Greene said she believes people will recognize her career accomplishments and support her candidacy.

History is on her side. She was the first female officer at the Pasco Sheriff's Office where she spent 31 years, eventually retiring as a major after White's election in 2000.

History is against her, too. No woman has won a general election race for sheriff in the state of Florida. Ever.

The recent past at the Sheriff's Office also shows White may be the most popular incumbent sheriff in decades. By the end of his first four-year term, Lee Cannon had seven election opponents including two from his own party. Four years ago, three Republicans and an independent wanted to unseat him.

Jim Gillum's political dance card was filled similarly. He faced seven opponents, including four from his own party, when he sought his first re-election in 1988. Six people challenged him in 1992 and Gillum failed to survive the Republican run-off.

It's perspective worth noting because Greene worked for both in leadership positions. Convincing people she is independent of the past administrations will be one of her challenges.

"You always bring something different to the table when you're the leader," said Greene. "I'll take all the experience over the years and hopefully not repeat any of the mistakes that they have made, but enhance upon the good things."

Well, she certainly observed plenty of mistakes.

Cannon's hot temper, budget fights with commissioners and amateurish campaign for a property tax increase overshadowed his accomplishments.

Gillum, meanwhile, wanted to fire Greene. Revelations of an 18-person hit list of employees Gillum planned to terminate after the 1992 election included Greene's name.

Her crime?

"She wanted to follow procedures and that wasn't consistent with the way they ran things over there," Gillum's former chief deputy said at the time.

So, Gillum transferred Greene from personnel to oversight of the police academy while his civilian appointees ran amok, hiring people without completed background checks and then backdating paperwork in an attempt to cover their tracks.

Gillum lost the election and Greene landed as a major for Cannon working stints as commander of corrections, criminal investigations and uniform operations bureaus.

She characterized herself as a fixer, the person assigned to patch up problem areas.

You almost wonder if she's been assigned that role again, this time by Democrats who don't want a popular incumbent sheriff - already accumulating impressive amounts of campaign cash - to go unchallenged.

Greene acknowledges the underdog role. But, certainly White was cast in the same position four years ago and emerged victorious. White, though, had the benefit of playing nice guy, occasionally challenging Cannon's record and then watching the incumbent self-destruct.

During the three years of his administration, White has kept public mistakes to a minimum and instilled a cooperative attitude toward commissioners and county staff who review his annual budget requests.

Greene is reserved with her criticism, at least for now.

"I will be be much more open with the public in the way the Sheriff's Office is run and administered," she said. "I'll involve the public more in the operation of the Sheriff's Office, which should be responsible to the needs of the community and not the other way around."

She declines to cite specific examples, saying the details will emerge later in the campaign.

Okay, we'll wait. But, it just wouldn't be a Pasco sheriff's election without allegations of mismanagement, cronyism and assorted other misdeeds.

At least, that's what history tells us.

[Last modified January 25, 2004, 02:00:57]


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