Double-decker bus plan hits skids

The famous British bus proved to be more of a hindrance than a help in Candy VanDercar's campaign for County Court Judge Group 7.

Published August 28, 2006

It's 13-feet, 4-inches high, seats 72 and tops out at 40 mph.

It's a 1963 AEC Bridgemaster, one of those famous British double-decker buses.

It was the hardest-to-miss campaign billboard in Pasco this election season.

Now it's just hard to miss.

For seven years the bus sat, beloved but unused, outside a Wesley Chapel home. None of Dr. David VanDercar's plans for it panned out. Not the mobile clinic. Not the vacation home. Then inspiration struck: Use the bus to support wife and defense attorney Candy VanDercar's campaign for county judge.

That didn't pan out, either. The campaign bus debuted last Monday. By Friday, it was just a bus again.

"Not in my wildest dreams," the candidate said, "did I imagine this would produce a problem."

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The six-cylinder diesel engine started on the first try. It was street-legal, but blue. So her husband painted it - what else? - candy apple red. Two 4-foot-by-8-foot "Candy VanDercar for County Court Judge Group 7" signs adorned the sides.

"I figured that a lot of people will look at billboards and signs, and they're so common they really wouldn't take note of it," said David VanDercar, who bought the bus for $5,000 in England and shipped it here. "I figured if they saw a double-decker bus it would really stand out."

In the wee hours Monday the couple drove it to the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey. It made its public debut in the courthouse parking lot.

But construction of the courthouse addition has made parking a nightmare. Mondays are the worst. That's when prospective jurors show up.

"Because it is so congested," said Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson, "we can't afford to have spaces taken up that aren't there for official business." He said the candidate was "cooperative." She said the county was "good-humored."

By 8:45 a.m. the bus was gone, which was probably good for the VanDercar campaign. It kept potential voters who were circling the lot from staring at the campaign signs - and the five spaces the bus took up.

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Later Monday the VanDercars parked the bus in New Port Richey off State Road 54, on a private lot they had permission to use. That was the plan all along, the candidate said, to use the bus like any other campaign sign.

Candy VanDercar's longtime paralegal, Karen Miller, went to check on the bus. She found Pasco County Code Enforcement doing the same thing.

Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Eyers said his supervisor told him the bus might be a problem.

Campaign signs are exempt from the county's sign ordinance. But campaign signs are not exempt from the county's vehicle sign ordinance.

"As it exists now, they can drive it around on the streets of the county and it wouldn't be a violation," Eyers said. But once the bus is parked on a right of way, advertising the campaign, there's a problem, he said.

No citation was issued. Eyers said he gave a verbal warning.

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VanDercar's first inclination is that the ordinance is unconstitutional. Her second inclination Friday was to just take the signs off the bus.

"Although this ordinance may be unconstitutional, it hasn't been challenged by anyone," she said. "Consequently it's the law and I'm going to follow the law."

Her opponents in the Sept. 5 Group 7 primary, longtime attorney Frank Grey II and Assistant County Attorney Anthony Salzano, didn't complain about the bus when the St. Petersburg Times asked about it last week.

"Another alternative is to just drive the bus up and down the roads every day," VanDercar said. "But it goes 40 mph an hour."