Principal adds mayor to his job description
After a decade of Cliff McDuffie's leadership, city voters on Tuesday overwhelming chose Zephyrhills High principal Steve Van Gorden, 36, as their new mayor. In the closely watched race that drew more pre-election interest than city leaders had seen in years, Van Gorden clinched a landslide victory over local businessman and former city Planning Commission board member Michael Payne, 53, with 70 percent of the vote. "I feel ecstatic," said Van Gorden by telephone moments after election results came in. "I am very humbled by the trust and the faith the citizens of Zephyrhills have put in me to lead." Van Gorden, who became a city resident in 2009, the same year he became the principal, said that he will take the first several months in office to closely listen to residents before proposing any major changes. Van Gorden served as a city commissioner in Dade City for five years. He will be sworn in as mayor at 5 p.m. Friday at City Hall. The term is for two years and comes with an annual salary of $6,000. Related story, Page 3
Recount for third seat on commission
Mayor Roy Pierce, Elayne Bassinger and commissioners Heiskell Christmas and Richard Gates drew the most votes in the race for three City Commission seats on Tuesday in a contest that will result in a recount of votes for Christmas and Gates. At press time, Pierce had 169 votes, Bassinger had 149 votes, Gates had 127 and Christmas had 126. Bassinger, 64, is a banker who in 2008 served as honorary mayor of Wesley Chapel. She has lived in San Antonio for 21 years. Christmas, 49, retired after 17 years in the Navy and now helps process workers' compensation claims. He was appointed to an empty seat on the commission in 2010 and previously served on the board from 2000-2007. Gates, 68, is retired from the Robbins Lumber company in Tampa and has been on the commission since 2008. Pierce, 62, has run a private investigative firm since retiring from the Tampa Police Department. He was elected to the commission in 1994 and was elected mayor a year later. He has served as mayor every year since, except for 2009. Timothy Franke, 44, came in last, with 85 votes.