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Two vying for seat on Zephyrhills council

Incumbent Tim Ippolito and challenger Mike Bussell square off Tuesday.

By BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


ZEPHYRHILLS -- There should be no confusion surrounding the ballot for Tuesday's city elections. It will have two names. One race. Only one hole to punch.

For a second consecutive year, 59-year-old Mike Bussell will play the role of challenger.

His opponent, 37-year-old incumbent Tim Ippolito, will try for his fourth consecutive term.

Tuesday's election will be a far cry from last year, when eight candidates battled for two council seats and the mayor's position. This year, incumbents Cathi Compton and Clyde Bracknell will coast back into office unchallenged.

Not so for Ippolito.

"I'm not running against Tim; I'm running for the seat," Bussell said recently. "I feel I can provide the city with direction."

Bussell, a Tampa native who moved to Zephyrhills in 1987, challenged incumbent Elizabeth Geiger in last year's race. Geiger won with 49 percent of the vote to Bussell's 37 percent. Ann Hubbard finished third with 14 percent in the same race.

Bussell, who retired as a sergeant from the military in 1985, never has held public office. But he says his ties to the community and his knowledge of city issues make him a strong candidate nonetheless.

He has advocated preparing Zephyrhills for the inevitable influx of new -- and probably younger -- residents from Tampa. At the same time, he says he is dedicated to preserving the small-town feel of Zephyrhills.

"The city needs to be responsive to the desires of citizens living here now," he said. "Zephyrhills is a unique small city. I know we can't keep it that way, but we can keep a semblance of that."

More than 20 years younger than his challenger, Ippolito is no stranger to the council. The Tampa native, who moved to Zephyrhills in 1988, first won election in 1995 against incumbent Robert Taylor.

He ran unopposed in 1997, then defeated Chamber of Commerce executive director Cliff McDuffie in 1999.

Ippolito, a lieutenant with the Tampa Fire Department, has been on the council as it has raised city salaries, helped revitalize the municipal airport and redeveloped the downtown.

He also has faced criticism, particularly for his vote last year not to give local firefighters the same raise as police officers.

As Tuesday's vote approaches, Ippolito said there are no pressing issues in Zephyrhills right now. He sees that as a good thing, a sign he has done his job well.

"I'm proud of my record," he said recently. "And I'd like the chance to finish some things that we've started. There's a lot of good things going on in the city."

This year's race has been cordial, not to mention quiet. Both candidates have been polite, even complimentary, of each other. Neither has spent very much money on campaigning.

Instead, they have relied mostly on their reputations and the friends who have helped them campaign.

"It would be nice to run unopposed, but I guess I can't do that," Ippolito said. "I'm looking forward to it, though."

Bussell agreed.

"It has been a pleasure," he said of the race. "Absolutely."

The election is scheduled for Tuesday. Last year's municipal election, featuring eight candidates, drew 20 percent of the registered voters, up from 1999's 13 percent turnout.

- Brady Dennis covers the city of Zephyrhills and police news in east Pasco. His phone number is (352) 521-5757, ext. 23. His e-mail address is dennis@sptimes.com.

The job

The Zephyrhills council seat is elected at-large in the city in a non-partisan race. Each council member serves with the four other members, including the mayor. The winning candidate will serve a two-year term. Each council member is paid $400 a month.

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