Joseph H. Stanley has hit the streets in his quest for the Congressional seat. Michael Bilirakis says he has focused on the issues, not the opponent.
By RICHARD DANIELSON
Published August 29, 2004
Come Tuesday, local Republicans will all but pick a congressional representative for about 640,000 people in northern Pinellas, western Pasco and suburban Hillsborough counties.
In the GOP primary for House District 9, U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis of Tarpon Springs faces first-time candidate Joseph H. Stanley of Carrollwood.
Tuesday's vote probably will go a long way toward determining the outcome of Nov. 2 election. That's because there is no Democratic candidate, though an independent write-in candidate did qualify for the general election.
Bilirakis, 74, has served in Congress for 22 years and has the advantages that come with being a longtime incumbent. He has raised about $600,000, more than two-thirds of it from political action committees and similar groups. Stanley, who owns a construction company, has about $129,000, all but $4,600 of it from his own pocket.
With scarce resources, Stanley, 39, has tried to improvise. He hopes to reach voters through the Internet, direct mail or in person. He campaigns in a red, white and blue 1968 Checker Aerobus, which looks like a cross between an old taxicab, a station wagon and a stretch limo.
"It's a huge attention-getter," he said.
When Stanley does get voters' attention, he tries to focus it on the rising federal deficit as well as threats to Social Security and Medicare.
"Our strategy has been to deliver people a viable alternative to business as usual in Washington so they can make an intelligent choice, and hopefully, that's what they'll do," Stanley said. He said he would not flinch from making hard choices when it comes to cutting spending or raising taxes to stabilize programs in jeopardy.
"We have some longterm fiscal problems coming up," Stanley said. "Career politicians aren't interested in doing the right thing. I think they're just interested in getting re-elected."
As in past elections, Bilirakis has paid little attention to his opponent.
"We never really worry too much about what our opponent is doing," he said Friday. "It's more a case of if we do what we need to be doing, that takes care of it."
His campaign touts his work on health issues such as the Medicare law that creates a prescription drug benefit to be offered in 2006, veterans issues and constituent service. Along with personal appearances and direct mail, he's using radio and cable television advertising to remind voters of his experience.
"People will hopefully remember what we've done and what we've accomplished all through the years," Bilirakis said.
Bilirakis says this will be his last campaign. In two years, he hopes his son Gus, a state representative from Palm Harbor, wins the seat. Already, however, speculation has begun about other Republicans who might run, including former state Sen. Jack Latvala of Palm Harbor and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City.
The district extends from Clearwater to Hudson, stretches east across northern Hillsborough County and south to Lithia. About 35 percent of its voters live in Hillsborough, 35 percent live in Pinellas and 30 percent are in Pasco. Republicans outnumber Democrats about 173,000 to 144,000, and the district voted decisively for President Bush four years ago.
Although there is no Democrat in the race, Tuesday's primary will be closed to non-Republicans because of the write-in candidate in the general election. That candidate, Andrew Pasayan, 86, of Holiday, works as a security guard. He advocates reducing consumption of tobacco, pork and beef, promoting cultivation of the ostrich and lengthening the school day.
U.S. House District 9 includes parts of western Pasco, northern Pinellas, and northern and eastern Hillsborough. U.S. representatives serve two-year terms and receive $158,100 annually.
Bilirakis, 74, is a lawyer, former restaurant owner and petroleum engineer who lives in Tarpon Springs. He was first elected to Congress in 1982. He is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chairman of the Health Subcommittee and vice chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Born in Tarpon Springs, he grew up in Pennsylvania, worked in steel mills and served in the Air Force. He attended the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Florida law school. He is married and has two children.
ASSETS: IRAs, stocks, annuities, bank accounts, real estate
Stanley, 39, is a construction company owner who lives in Carrollwood. He has worked as a sheriff's and fire dispatcher, boat captain and chimney sweep. In 1989, he started as a cable television installer and worked his way into management. He also owned a cable TV contracting company. He has served as a volunteer firefighter and reserve sheriff's deputy. He was born in Stevens Point, Wis., grew up in Clearwater and graduated from Citrus High School in Citrus County. He is married and has a son.
ASSETS: bank account, 401(k), stocks, precious metals, personal property