Sunday, May 27, 2018
Politics

Pasco school superintendent challenger Browning builds commanding lead in campaign cash

LAND O'LAKES — If the race for Pasco schools superintendent boils down to money for messaging, challenger Kurt Browning pulled far ahead of incumbent Heather Fiorentino over the past three months.

Browning collected another $42,951 in contributions for his campaign, nearly doubling his war chest to $91,658 since entering the race. He has spent $23,727, leaving him with close to $60,000 to continue his election push.

Fiorentino, by contrast, raised $6,025 in the second quarter, barely moving the needle closer to the amount Browning collected in the first quarter alone. After her expenses, she had about $3,000 remaining in her account.

Browning's financial supporters include a broad range of community leaders from the four corners of the county, including the influential west side Mitchell and Starkey families, as well as Dade City heavyweights such as Hjalma Johnson and Hutch Brock. Many current and retired educators also cast their lot with Browning, including United School Employees of Pasco vice president Kenny Blankenship and retired West Zephyrhills Elementary principal Emily Keene.

Browning also got contributions from several businesses, including Seven Hills, Adam Smith Enterprises, Lema Construction and Southwest Sheetmetal.

"When you look at my contributors, they are moms and dads, business owners, teachers, people from all across this county," Browning said. "People all across our county want change in district leadership."

It takes money to get the message out, he added.

Many of Fiorentino's contributors came from within the ranks of her administration, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by critics who have accused Fiorentino of twisting arms to support her re-election bid.

Those donors include chief financial officer Olga Swinson, planning director Chris Williams, new construction director John Petrashek, Marlowe Elementary principal Hilda Martin, Stewart Middle principal Shae Davis and Schrader Elementary principal Tammy Berryhill. Other notables on the list include County Commissioner Pat Mulieri and retired PHCC president Bob Judson.

Fiorentino's expenditures during the same quarter were almost triple her collections, manifest most notably in a double-hit mailer that absentee voters received a week ago. One of Fiorentino's ads touted her experiences and record, while the other blasted Browning.

Fiorentino explained that she did not want to ask supporters for more money than she needs to run her campaign, so she did not actively seek donations in the second quarter. She does have at least two more fundraisers scheduled for the coming weeks leading to the Aug. 14 primary.

Ken Benson, a third candidate in the Republican primary, collected $600 toward his campaign, including $200 of his own money and another $200 from an out-of-state relative.

School Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley continued to have strong collections against her District 2 challenger Don Stephenson. She brought in another $7,287 to double her total. Stephenson has said he would not accept money from unions or any companies that do business with the school district. His latest report was not available Friday afternoon.

Hurley, seeking a second term, received contributions from Tiger Pride, the political arm of the United School Employees of Pasco, as well as the West Central Florida Federation of Labor, Waste Management, construction executive Rick Lentz, Coastal Design Consultants and the A.D. Morgan construction services firm.

Other notable backers included former board member Kathryn Starkey, former county commissioner Michael Cox, Realtor Greg Armstrong (husband of board member Cynthia Armstrong), former district administrator Amelia Van Name Larson, and banker David Key of Patriot Bank.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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