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Time again for re-runs in city election drama

By C.T. BOWEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


Forget the February sweeps, the super-size Friends episodes and the prime-time Saturday Night Live.

Survivor II? Not quite.

Take a good look around. This is re-run season. The same issues and faces are bountiful in upcoming repeat episodes on the local political scene.

We'll start in the east where a sure sign of spring is carping about the city manager in Zephyrhills.

There's a clique that would vote Steve Spina off the island routinely if given the opportunity. The city manager has become the focal point of the city's election each of the past three campaigns.

It's hard to imagine why. The property tax rate has been steady for nine years. The north end of town is booming and is poised to land a Super Wal-Mart store. The first phase of a downtown beautification project is complete giving the core business district a pleasing appearance of palm trees, street lights and red brick trim.

Sure, there have been communications gaffes. Firefighters also lament the council's unanimous decision to bump the salaries for police officers three years ago without doing likewise for the their department. Somehow, though, Spina bears the criticism for that council vote.

If you think you've heard all this before, you have. This column topic is getting to be a re-run, too. But, here's why: the filing period for the April 10 election doesn't close until noon Tuesday, and Spina already is the target.

Except one of the would-be candidates misfired badly.

Dale Barnett, a business owner and a Zephyrhills paid volunteer firefighter (yes, that's right -- paid volunteer), moved inside the city limits to challenge longtime council member Clyde Bracknell. He opened his campaign with salvos aimed at the city administration.

Just one little problem. Barnett acknowledged Thursday he couldn't count. He hasn't lived in the city the mandatory six months to qualify for office. He withdrew from the race boasting he'd already made a difference.

No difference exists. It's the same storyline, actually. Bracknell's opponent in 1999, another Spina critic, also had to withdraw from the race after everyone learned she had lied about her academic background.

Another re-run comes courtesy of Mike Bussell. He lost a bid to unseat council President Liz Geiger last April and now is running against incumbent Tim Ippolito. Bussell is reserved in his criticism of how the city is run, but you have to wonder why he keeps challenging the council members most loyal to Spina.

In Port Richey, voters get a rematch of the September special election, but with a twist. Five months ago, Bob Leggiere had the power of incumbency after three years on the council and three months as acting mayor. It was of little consequence. He lost to Eloise Taylor, the one-time city attorney, who ran on a good-government platform.

Taylor is the incumbent now and can repeat her platform. Leggiere, tied to open a State Attorney's Office investigation of the city government, can repeat his, too.

Appointed council members and Leggiere supporters Dale Massad and Phyllis Grae will face voters on this ballot also. Grae finished fourth a year ago in the race for three seats. The council appointed her and Massad to fill vacancies created by Leggiere's resignation to run for mayor and Tom Brown's decision to leave the council following his interview with prosecutors.

Look for the campaign to again focus on Leggiere's three-year tenure, rather than Taylor's six-month stint at mayor.

After all that drama, viewers might need a little light-hearted fare. So, consider this Nick at Night break courtesy of Chuck Kalogianis. He announced a run for Congress Friday roughly 15 months before he knows in which congressional district he will reside.

Yes, we know. Another re-run. This is the same New Port Richey attorney clobbered by Rep. Mike Fasano in the 1998 state House race.

Kalogianis, the one-time Chippendale-like dancer in Massachusetts, can be expected to receive plenty of reminders of his earlier career track. Here are the thoughts of Estelle Rodman of Bayonet Point who contacted us after she read the Ex-male stripper to run for Congress story Friday morning.

"The title alone put a big smile on my face. I do not know Kalogianis, but is that all there is about his past life? No drugs? No murders? No robberies? He should be admired for his spunk and considered to be an asset to his party."

Indeed. Though we have a feeling it's not the spunk that drew the admiration back in Massachusetts.

Just another repeat. But, let's face it, things could be worse. What if we're all bit players in the movie Groundhog Day?

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