As last year's tumultuous county budget hearings drew to a close, a central figure leading the public outcry vowed that he would find a way to oust incumbent county commissioners, even if he had to spend $25,000 from his own pocket.
So far, Blaise Ingoglia — home builder, professional poker player and driving force behind last summer's Government Gone Wild seminars — has made modest progress on his plan.
The real push, he said, will start after voters decide in Tuesday's primary who's left standing.
Since the beginning of the election season, Ingoglia and his companies — Hartland Homes, America One Home Loans and Juris Title of Hernando County — have spent $6,000 supporting County Commission candidates, even multiple candidates in the same race.
Is he hedging his bets?
He said he is not. He is doing what he promised he would do at the end of last summer.
"Basically my statement was that I was going to donate as much money as I could to people who were running so they could get the word out as to their platform,'' Ingoglia said.
He said he is letting the candidates — nine Republicans battling for three nominations — "battle it out'' in the primary. When the voters have had their say, he will examine the candidates and endorse those who are "fiscally responsible and pro-active thinkers.''
Different candidates have gotten various amounts of money so far, but Ingoglia isn't saying how he arrived at his decisions. For example, both William "Billy'' Healis, who is running in the District 5 Republican primary, and Hubert "Wayne" Dukes, who is running in the District 3 Republican primary, collected a total of $1,500 each from Ingoglia and his businesses, the highest amount he has given an individual in the primary.
John Druzbick, running against Dukes and Charles Gaskin, got just $1,000. Ingoglia didn't give Gaskin any money.
And in District 5, James Adkins got just $500, compared to what Healis received. The third contender in that race, Michael Robinson, got no money from the home builder.
"I don't know what his strategy is unless he just appreciates who's running,'' Adkins said. "I haven't really followed the money trail.''
To Adkins, the amount of money doesn't make the campaign, but rather the message. He noted in his last run for commission, he had a small war chest and was defeated by only 50 votes.
Dukes said that Ingoglia approached him last year after a County Commission meeting and before the Government Gone Wild seminars. He said Ingoglia told him he liked his message and wanted to support him.
Dukes said he was aware that the builder's money was spread among various candidates. "Later on he said he'd help anybody who would bring change,'' Dukes said.
Since Ingoglia first vowed to spend $25,000 of his own money for the cause, he has said he would spend that "and more,'' and said last week that he had big plans after the primary.
"Residents of the county who have been looking for a change, they will be very pleasantly surprised,'' he said. "I'm telling incumbents, this is the quiet before the storm.''
While he would give no clues as to what his next move will be, Ingoglia said that while he has "been good'' in recent months, things will soon change.
"You haven't seen anything yet. We've been working very diligently,'' he said. "It's going to be unbelievable.''
At least one incumbent said he wasn't concerned.
"My first reaction is that if it came out of Blaise Ingoglia, I'm sure it will be unbelievable because of the very definition of the word,'' said incumbent District 1 Commissioner Jeff Stabins.
He said the facts and figures Ingoglia used last year to criticize county government operations, and especially the sitting commissioners, were rife with errors and misinterpretations.
Stabins faces opponents Michael Burmann, who has received $1,000 from Ingoglia, and Jon "Jaz'' Zydenbos, who got $500. He is the only incumbent facing a challenge in the primary.
Stabins said he wasn't worried about Ingoglia or "whatever theatrical performance he'll produce this fall.''
He said he is staying focused on what he believes wins elections.
"I'm doing the best I can, getting the word out through the mail and door to door and through the forums,'' he said.
Incumbent District 3 commissioner Diane Rowden said she is taking that same approach, talking to people one at a time about her candidacy.
"What I'm seeing and hearing is that obviously Mr. Ingoglia has an agenda and his agenda is what brought the problems in our county to begin with — uncontrolled growth,'' Rowden said.
She argued that Ingoglia was in lockstep with the agenda of builders and developers, who wanted impact fees lowered, a move she strongly opposed. Through an e-mail message, she urged Hernando residents to pack a recent commission meeting to argue that they didn't want an impact fee decrease because that would push the burden back on taxpayers.
"When I made the reference in my e-mail to the 'greed' of builders and developers, Mr. Ingoglia was one of the persons who would best fit that,'' she said.
As for him financing an attack on incumbents, she said he could "be a blowhard and send out all the garbage,'' but that it won't work because most residents won't buy it.
"The people in Hernando County are a lot smarter than that. You can't buy their votes. You have to earn their votes,'' Rowden said. "He's the problem, not the solution. All he wants are people up there to be puppets.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.