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CITRUS COMM 5

EYE OF STORM: The incumbent has been in the spotlight during hurricane preparations. His challenger says he doesn't listen to voters.

By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published October 26, 2004

Do hurricanes help incumbents? That question is worth pondering after Florida was thrashed by an unprecedented four hurricanes, drawing several visits from President Bush, who gave Floridians water, billions of dollars in disaster aid and a strong leadership image to remember come Nov. 2.

Sen. John Kerry, meanwhile, was forced to lay low immediately after the storms or else risk looking like a political opportunist if he stumped too soon in the Sunshine State.

On the local level, County Commission Chairman Josh Wooten, an incumbent like Bush, was in the public eye for nearly the entire month of September because of Frances and Jeanne.

When information wasn't getting to the public, Wooten called radio and television stations. When the state was slow to send Citrus ice and water, Wooten helped recruit businesses to fill the gap. When residents were frustrated by slow power restoration, Wooten, who is 42, demanded better service.

Joyce Valentino, meanwhile, has had to continue campaigning out of the spotlight. But she said she is confident voters are going to remember her at the polls.

"The momentum's there, the support's still there, regardless of the storm and the publicity Josh has gotten," said Valentino, 56.

She is the Republican candidate who is looking to unseat Wooten, who is a first-term Democrat in District 5, which consists of northeast Citrus, including parts of Inverness, Hernando and Holder.

Commissioners are elected at-large by all voters and make decisions for the entire county. They must live within their districts when they serve.

The race between Wooten and Valentino might be summed up as voters who support Wooten and those who oppose him because they say he does not listen to the public, Valentino said.

"The voters are discontent," she said. "They're not satisfied with the Board of County Commissioners we have presently and they want a change."

She said she is better suited to represent the public because she has been a community activist for 14 years. Wooten, she said, is not as widely known and has a track record of making decisions when the overwhelming majority of residents lean another way.

Water is Valentino's top issue, whether it be cleaning up Citrus' rivers, lakes and coastal areas or making sure water rights remain in the county. She supports putting more money toward getting waterfront homes off septic tanks and persuading the state to help the county do so with more tax dollars.

Wooten, meanwhile, runs on a four-year record of county improvements: from roads widened without debt to unparalleled county services without one property tax rate increase.

He counters Valentino's claim that he does not listen to the public by pointing out that he has four phone lines where he could be reached and two walk-in offices. He said he put public comment on the top of the agenda during County Commission meetings.

Like Valentino, he said, water quality is one of his top goals as is making the county government operate within its means.

THE JOB

A board of five commissioners debates policy and passes county ordinances. District 5 includes northeast Citrus County, including Holder, Hernando and parts of Inverness. Commissioners must live in the district, but all commissioners are elected at-large and make decisions for the entire county. They serve four-year terms and are paid $48,789 per year.

REPUBLICAN

JOYCE VALENTINO, 56, was born in Bridgeport, Conn., and ran for County Commission in 2000. She is a member of several environmental organizations and served as a congressional staff member for U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Crystal River. She lives in Inverness and attended Sacred Heart-St. Ambrose High School and Bullard Havens Technical Institute, both in Connecticut. She works as a secretary and bookkeeper for Sal's Handyman Service and owns rental properties. She is married and has four children. ASSETS: bank accounts, insurance stock, real estate, home. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: rental income.

DEMOCRAT

JOSH WOOTEN, 42, is the incumbent District 5 county commissioner and serves as board chairman. He was born in Jacksonville and graduated from Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach. He has lived in Citrus County since 1984 and Citrus Hills since 1997. He owns Wooten's Autocorp Inc. in Hernando. He is married and has four children. ASSETS: home, stock, seller-financed mortgage, life insurance, bank accounts, stock in own business . LIABILITIES: mortgage, home equity line of credit, car loan, credit cards. SOURCES OF INCOME: business, county job.

[Last modified October 25, 2004, 11:56:48]

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