St. Petersburg Times Online: Election 2000
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Council races hinged on past contretemps

The coalition of Ilnyckyj and Wheeler suffered defeat in what many view as retribution for past actions.

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- The timing could not have been worse.

Just days before the election, City Council candidate Alex Ilnyckyj was accused of using profanity and rebuking a city employee after several of Ilnyckyj's re-election signs were removed from what public works employees thought was public property.

His comments, which could not be printed in this newspaper without hefty editing, may have proved the undoing of the tough-talking former New Yorker who was once censured for disruptive behavior on the council.

"He has a personality that will sometimes rub people the wrong way," observed Weston Stow, a Crystal River resident and chairman of the Citrus County Republican Executive Committee.

Despite having lived in the area only for a few years, Bonnie Taylor managed to destroy Ilnyckyj, winning 67 percent of the vote.

Even Taylor, a nurse, was surprised by the outcome. "I expected it to be very tight," she said after being sworn in Tuesday.

Though quiet at recent political forums, Taylor was an aggressive campaigner, riding her bicycle to as many homes as she could. "What wins a political race is good old-fashioned politicking," said Stow, "and that's going door to door greeting the voters, looking them right in the eyeballs and asking them for their vote."

Ilnyckyj was not the only incumbent to take a fall. His political ally, Paula Wheeler, was defeated by Russ Kreager, though in less dramatic fashion. She, too, was not afraid to challenge the status quo.

Their outspokenness drew fire, to be sure, but it was Ilnyckyj and Wheeler's vote in February 1999 to fire Kreager as city manager that made them reviled by the political establishment. "It came back to haunt them," said Stow.

Ed Tolle, the man some feel orchestrated this year's upheaval, said there has been in effect two councils: one with Ilnyckyj and Wheeler, and another with Joe Chrietzberg, Mike Gudis and Ray Wallace.

"Now there is more of a chance of having a single council," said Tolle, who dismissed his influence in town affairs as a "myth" created by the Times editorial staff.

Wheeler offered another assessment of the new council. "It will be a handful of people being controlled by a less number of people," she said, trying her best to avoid referring directly to Tolle.

"You cannot fight that kind of hate, you just can't fight it," Wheeler said. "I was outgunned by the fanatics. I worked pretty hard but it was just me and one of my friends. I certainly didn't have every single council member waving signs and wearing political badges (for Kreager and Taylor). I thought that was the tackiest thing I have ever seen. I've seen more maturity and class at the middle school."

Privately, some residents express dissatisfaction with City Manager David Sallee, who perhaps knowing the shaky relationship the town has with its top employee, lives in a rented room at a Crystal River hotel.

Without the backing of Ilnyckyj and Wheeler, who credit Sallee for bringing professionalism to the city, the city manager could be vulnerable.

Charter amendments

Voters on Tuesday took up several proposed changes to the city charter. They approved a measure to extend elected officials' terms by two years.

And they overwhelmingly voted to pass an ordinance defining standards of conduct for council members and disciplinary action against them.

In a year marked with change, Crystal River residents did maintain one tradition. The mayor, they voted, should continue to provide the annual State of the City address. Depending on whom you talk to, the city is poised to enter a new era of cooperation or continue a political sideshow.

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