Jack Mariano upsets Peter Altman

"It's unbelievable," newcomer Mariano, 44, said from his Beacon Woods home.

Published November 3, 2004

Political newcomer Jack Mariano pulled off a stunning upset Tuesday to oust County Commissioner Peter Altman, the chairman of the board.

Mariano slipped past Altman with nearly 51 percent of the vote - a surprising accomplishment, considering Altman had a 3-to-1 fundraising advantage and the name recognition that comes from holding various public offices for 16 years.

"It's unbelievable," Mariano, 44, said from his Beacon Woods home, where friends offered congratulations and Mariano's daughters sprayed him with pink and blue silly string.

The defeat interrupts, if not ends, Altman's considerable tenure as a public official: four years as a county commissioner and 12 years on the New Port Richey City Council. Eight of those years he served as the city's mayor.

"My thoughts are purely on the fact that I have been so blessed and honored to be able to participate in the great things over a long number of years, and I am concentrating on those good thoughts," Altman, 47, said Tuesday evening from Spoonbills Restaurant, at a gathering that was supposed to be his victory party.

"The county's in great shape," Altman said. "The county's got great opportunities in front of it."

The race in District 5, which covers northwest Pasco and most of the coastline, revolved as much around the issues as the personalities.

Mariano criticized Altman for being unresponsive to constituents and busy with his own business endeavors, including his work as a tax accountant and his efforts to redevelop downtown New Port Richey. Altman said those criticisms were unfair and inaccurate.

Altman won the seat four years ago with a razor-thin, 891-vote victory over Republican Jack Armstrong. His loss this year means the County Commission will become a Republican-only body when Mariano takes office later this month.

"I think I had a dedicated team behind me," Mariano said. "I had a lot of people all over the county pulling for me, knowing I would get serious about the position."

Although commissioners represent a district, they are elected countywide to four-year terms. The job pays $70,821 a year.

Altman went into the season with no Democratic opponent and a hefty fundraising advantage. He raised $58,925 cash and $1,607 in-kind contributions, much of it from development interests. Mariano raised $20,996 cash and $182 in-kind contributions, much of it from businesses and Republican backers.

During the campaign, Altman touted the county's improvements over the past four years: New ordinances limit signs and require more trees and landscaping; redevelopment efforts are under way in a few older neighborhoods; and another ordinance, which Altman proposed, requires developers along U.S. 19 to pay into a fund for highway improvements.

"I wish Mr. Mariano well," Altman said. "I think he's got a great County Commission to work with. I have confidence in our county, that it will function and continue to be progressive."