A mayor, but not actually mayoral

Published November 2, 2006

LAND O'LAKES - In 1968, some people in town thought it would be a good idea to create a mayor. They didn't have one. Land O'Lakes was, and still is, unincorporated. That means no city hall, no city government - no mayor.

So, they created a new position - an "honorary mayor" who would be a town representative, a Miss or Mister America for central Pasco County, on hand for parades, ribbon cuttings, socials and a few speeches.

The title has weathered the decades, though in some years a local runs unopposed. The tradition has remained intact. But with all the new people moving to the area, it's gotten a little murky.

The new people don't get it - the mayor is fake.

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The letters that come to the chamber of commerce start out like this:

"Dear Mayor,"

And then the letter writer proceeds to ask the mayor of Land O'Lakes for help with busy intersections, potholes and whatnot.

"This is just for fun, people," said Kathy Dunkley, executive director of the chamber, which has sponsored the contest since the late 1970s. "The mayor isn't real."

As it stands today, a person wins the honorary mayor title by raising the most money for the town and for charity.

The reigning honorary mayor, Faith Jordan-Masella, said people come up to her all the time, thinking she's a real mayor with real power.

If she's in a funny mood, she'll let them get pretty deep into their spiels about roads that need fixing and other troubles.

"Anything you want," she tells them. "I'll get it for you.

"All it takes is money."

She'll let this go on for "oh, about 30 seconds." But she never lets someone walk away thinking she's the real mayor. She explains that she has no power.

"I have fun with it," she said.

But her friends, it seems, have even more fun. A girlfriend bought her a crown. People might bow and curtsey if the mood strikes. People announce, "The mayor is here," when she goes to her usual restaurants.

This seems to be a trend with honorary mayor entourages. Joyce Miguel, a branch manager at Suntrust Bank, was HM in 2002. She keeps her sash slung over her bedroom mirror. During her reign, every time she left Beef O'Brady's, people shouted, "The honorary mayor is leaving the building."

"I miss it. It was a special time," Miguel said.

A new reign

Jordan-Masella's term ends at 7 p.m. Friday, under the big tent at the Flapjack Festival when the new honorary mayor will be named.

Two people are duking it out this year: Rene Van Hout, who is a Realtor with Exit Extreme Realty and owner of LOL Transport and Moving, and Chip Krouse, who could not be reached for this story.

In addition to two jobs, one husband, one daughter, four dogs and one cat, Van Hout and her campaign team - yes, she has a team - have been running her Mayor-A-Thon since May.

She's had a Bowl-O-Rama, bass fishing tournament, wine tasting, ice cream social, Shoot-A-Thon as in guns, pet portraits, pet parades and other mixers and parties. She's "not allowed to say" how much money she's raised. But the 35-year-old seems confident.

And people are already asking her to put lights at tricky intersections and to put more police officers in various neighborhoods.

"I can't wait for election day," they tell her. "I'm voting for you."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.