ZEPHYRHILLS — After a decade as the face of Zephyrhills, Mayor Cliff McDuffie has decided not to seek re-election this spring.
"It's just time for me to go, and I'll leave it at that," McDuffie, 77, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I need to do (it) for me."
City Manager Jim Drumm said he recently received a letter from McDuffie explaining his decision, in which the mayor described an epiphany he had while driving to Tampa. McDuffie, who used to live in Hillsborough County and was extremely involved in community boards and organizations, said he originally moved to Zephyrhills to detach himself from his community duties so that he could focus more on his family.
However, he once again became the man about town. He was executive director of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce when he won his first mayoral election in 2002. He retired from the chamber position in 2005 and since then has been going full-steam as mayor, attending civic events, writing proclamations and representing the city on many boards and committees. And although the mayor does not have a vote on the City Council, he has taken his seat up on the dais for council meetings and has voiced his opinions.
"From my short tenure here, he's been an effective mayor," Drumm said. "For what's supposed to be a part-time job, he's made it a full-time job."
Drumm said he hopes the next mayor is as dedicated as McDuffie.
Two candidates have already jumped into the race for the job.
Zephyrhills High School principal Steve Van Gorden and former city Planning Commission member Michael Payne have filed paperwork to run for mayor in the April 10 election. The mayor serves a two-year term.
Van Gorden, 36, previously served on the Dade City Commission until 2009, when he stepped down because he was moving to Zephyrhills. He could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Payne made his first run for office in 2008 with a campaign for the Zephyrhills City Council. He resigned last fall from the Planning Commission, which he criticized as a "rubber stamp" operation for its blessing of a proposal to seek brownfield status for a large part of the city. He raised concerns then about the stigma of the label and the need for more information.
Payne said Tuesday he's been impressed with McDuffie and hopes to continue his work.
"He's done a lot of good in this town, and if he's not going to be running, then someone needs to pick up the ball and keep running," said Payne, 53, who owns a local pest management business. "People looked to Cliff as a leader. I feel like I could go ahead and continue that."
The official qualifying period for the April election doesn't begin until noon Feb. 14 and ends at noon Feb. 21. Two other seats are up for re-election, those of council president Jodi Wilkeson and council member Ken Burgess, who was appointed to the position in July when council member Tim Urban stepped down to move back to his hometown of Brooksville. No challengers had filed for either of those seats by Tuesday afternoon.