Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Politics

Bowen: Fan base growing for EDC chief Bill Cronin

It was reminiscent of the Saturday Night Live skit about the Chicago Bears' super fans and their affinity for the coach who took the team to the 1986 Super Bowl victory.

"Who's going to win the Indianapolis 500 this weekend?" one asks.

"Is Ditka driving?" comes the response.

Take out Mike Ditka and insert Bill Cronin, and that's pretty much how a recent political forum played out in Land O'Lakes. Three-term county Commissioner Jack Mariano can assume the role of Bill Swerski, the leader of the super fans. One of the commissioner's announced opponents, businessman Chris Cooley, was on hand as well. There were no Polish sausages, but you could grab some meatballs from a crockpot.

Cronin, who started in January as president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, wasn't in the room. But, his name got tossed around by Mariano in response to roughly half the questions at the April 25 Central Pasco Republican Club's forum for the District 5 County Commission race.

Economic development? Bill Cronin's here. We're in good hands.

The search for a new county administrator? Look how well we did in hiring Bill Cronin.

More jobs? Bill Cronin.

I've met Bill Cronin, too, Cooley told the audience of 30 people.

If this had been a drinking game (there was pinot noir and bottles of Yuengling at the ready in the rear of the room) observers might have been hammered had they imbibed every time they heard "Bill Cronin.''

"Really?'' Cronin said a day later when informed of his burgeoning popularity.

Ironically, the Cronin-fest came roughly 16 hours before he stood before Mariano and the rest of the commission to present new economic development plans tied to the Penny for Pasco sales tax proceeds.

"I think it's important to manage expectations here,'' Cronin said at one point. "I think it's important for us to be patient. If they were perfect (industrial development sites), we'd already have people here and investing here.''

Of course, this was after Cronin teased the commission with a tidbit about new jobs. In the first half of the current fiscal year, the council saw 81 jobs created, far off the pace of its stated goal to bring 600 new jobs to Pasco by Oct. 1. Cronin, however, told commissioners he was confident the council would meet or surpass that goal.

Do the math and you can extrapolate that one or more companies will be announcing creation of at least 519 jobs within the next six months.

Which probably explains why Mariano gushed to Cronin in the commission chambers, "You are the right person in the right place at the right time.''

Despite the attention to job creation, it wasn't the only thing on the minds of the Central Pasco Republicans.

They wondered about Mariano's and Cooley's ideas for improving the U.S. 41/State Road 54 intersection, better storm water drainage without an exorbitant cost, community identities and boosting the quality of life in parts of west Pasco where incomes are low, hunger is high and substance abuse is problematic.

Jay Michlin of Hudson asked both candidates to be sure that discussions of future rail transit carry true cost estimates. And Louie Rodriguez of Land O'Lakes, who has his own club called the Pasco Conservative Union, asked Cooley why he had switched his registration between the Democratic and Republican parties multiple times.

"I've moved 15 times, too'' Cooley answered. "That doesn't make me a non-New Yorker.''

Cooley has made jobs one of the top planks of his campaign platform, and he criticized the performance of the county's permitting office (a gripe every election season) and the county's impact fees.

"It's miserable to do business in Pasco County,'' he said.

Not if you ask the super fans.

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