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District 1 Hillsborough County Commission

Stacey Lyn Easterling criticizes incumbent Ben Wacksman over campaign contributions, while Wacksman says her campaign is distorting his record.

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


When Ben Wacksman was appointed in 1998 to fill a vacancy on the Hillsborough County Commission, Commissioner Jan Platt asked the question on everyone's mind:

"Who is Ben Wacksman?"

Two years later, Wacksman hopes voters know the answer. The 38-year-old real estate broker wants to win his first election after being appointed to replace Ed Turanchik, who quit to head the campaign to bring the 2012 Olympics to Florida.

Wacksman, a Democrat, has run what he calls a "positive campaign," based on his accomplishments after two years. He faces Republican Stacey Lyn Easterling, a 30-year-old former prosecutor also making her first bid for public office.

Easterling was a prosecutor for four years under the late Hillsborough State Attorney Harry Lee Coe. She quit in March to run against the wishes of Coe, who was disappointed she was challenging an ally. Her candidacy caused a rift between Coe and Easterling's mother, who was Coe's human resources director and a friend. The two didn't talk for months.

Easterling said she ran to spread her message of limiting government, keeping taxes low and protecting the environment. She has taken an unusual stand for a Republican, making strong anti-growth statements. She opposes, for example, building a desalination plant on Tampa Bay.

She also criticizes Wacksman for accepting campaign contributions from people who go before the commission. "Whatever the developer wants, they get," she said.

Easterling promises not to accept contributions from anyone who goes before the commission. Her biggest campaign backer is Sam Rashid, who has raised thousands of dollars for conservative Republicans.

Wacksman has called Easterling's supporters extremists who distort his record and are bent on dismantling county government. Rashid, for example, bought several Web sites with Wacksman's name to keep him from using them.

Despite Easterling's criticisms, Wacksman said he has never supported a new tax. He voted twice to lower property taxes. He also voted in 1999 to renew the one-cent "penny for potholes" gas tax another 10 years. He said he only promises campaign contributors good government.

Wacksman is running on his record on children's issues and consumer protection. He sponsored an ordinance that prohibited title loan companies from charging customers more than 30 percent interest a year. He pushed to get the commission to expand its consumer protection staff.

He helped expand after-school programs by getting the sheriff to charge a $10 fee to inmates booked into the county jail. The fee will pay for 450 more children to participate. He also worked to create "Juniors to Seniors," an oral history project that helps kids connect with senior citizens.

THE JOB

The seven-member County Commission sets policy, oversees a $2-billion budget, runs the Environmental Protection Commission, approves local ordinances, decides zoning issues and hires and fires the county administrator, who is responsible for the daily functioning of county government. District 1 covers South Tampa and Town 'N Country. A map of County Commission districts appears on Page 18. The commissioner will serve a two-year term and will earn an annual salary of $77,646.

REPUBLICAN

STACEY LYN EASTERLING, 30, is corporate counsel to Communi-

cations Equity Associates in Tampa. Before joining the banking and investment firm in March, she was an assistant state attorney for four years. Born in Tampa, she graduated from the Academy of the Holy Names in 1988, the University of Florida in 1992, and Loyola University School of Law in 1996. She is single. ASSETS: condominium, car, deferred compensation, savings, cash, stock. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: salary.

DEMOCRAT

BEN WACKSMAN, 38, was appointed to the Hillsborough County Commission by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles in December 1998. Before his appointment, Wacksman owned a real estate company, WP Commercial Inc., in Tampa. He was chairman of the Business and Professional Roundtable, a non-partisan group committed to progressive ideas. He also served on the Tampa Public Nuisance Abatement Board. Born in New York City, he graduated from New York University in 1984 and earned a master of public administration degree from Columbia University in 1987. He is married. ASSETS: home, stock, retirement plan, cash. LIABILITIES: bank loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: salary, investments.

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