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    Hopeful's first city vote may be for self

    Commission candidate Sal Gattuso has not voted in any of the Largo elections for which he was eligible.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


    LARGO -- Last March, 8,610 Largo residents cast ballots in the mayor's race.

    Largo City Commission candidate Sal Gattuso was not one of them.

    Gattuso, who is challenging incumbent Harriet Crozier for a seat on the commission, has not voted in the three city elections since he moved to Largo from Illinois in March 1997. He registered to vote in May 1997, according to records from the county's supervisor of elections office, but didn't vote in elections in 1998, 1999 or 2000.

    Gattuso initially explained that he was too busy to vote in those elections, which he admitted was inexcusable. But he later blamed it on the candidates in those races, saying he never saw any of them in his neighborhood during those campaigns so he didn't have enough information about them to make an informed decision.

    "Wasn't it their duty to come out to our neighborhood to let us know what they stand for and what they represent?" Gattuso said Friday.

    His opponent does not agree.

    "If a candidate doesn't come to me, it behooves me to do my homework," Crozier said.

    The commissioner added: "It surprises me that someone would run for an office and not vote in a (city) election."

    Gattuso did vote in the 1998 and 2000 general elections. He hopes voters over look his voting record in city elections.

    "I want people to come out and vote for me because I don't think they are being represented properly," he said.

    Largo's election is March 6.

    Gattuso, a civilian employee at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, has suggested that Largo be carved into seven single-member districts to create greater accountability for residents from city commissioners. Crozier says Largo is too small for such a plan.

    This is not Gattuso's first political campaign. In 1985, Gattuso said, he finished second in a three-way race for an alderman seat in Wooddale, Ill.

    Voter apathy has been an issue in Largo in recent years. In 1998, 7 percent of registered voters in Largo cast ballots in the City Commission election, the lowest turnout of any city in Pinellas County. The next year, the percentage of registered voters in that election remained at 7 percent.

    Last year, with a three-way race for the mayor's seat and two City Commission seats up for grabs, the percentage of registered voters who turned out in that election tripled to nearly 22 percent.

    Richard Scher, a University of Florida political science professor, said Gattuso's unwillingness to vote in the past three city elections could do irreparable harm to his claim that he is committed to city issues.

    "It could undercut his credibility if he didn't even bother to vote and he wants people to vote for him," he said. "It cuts against the whole notion of democratic participation."

    Candidate forum

    The Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce is hosting a candidate forum at noon Tuesday at East Bay Country Club, 702 Country Club Drive. Commissioner Harriet Crozier is being challenged by city code enforcement board member Sal Gattuso.

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