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Two Pasco races pit newbies against commission incumbents

Voters will decide in this election whether to keep two Pasco County commissioners — or hire new ones.

Chairwoman Pat Mulieri is seeking a fifth — and, she says, final — term on the board. She is challenged by longtime environmental activist Clay Colson.

Commissioner Michael Cox is running for a second four-year term. Henry Wilson Jr., a Republican health care manager, is running against him.

Challengers Colson and Wilson couldn't be more different, but the pair have two things in common: little campaign money and the hope of riding an anti-incumbency wave to victory.

Here's a look both matchups:

District 2: Mulieri vs. Colson

Mulieri, 72, first won office 16 years ago after she made a name for herself as civic activist who fought to keep a medical waste incinerator out of Gowers Corner.

The Republican has since earned a reputation as a hands-on commissioner who visits with small businesses and helps negotiate compromises in county disputes.

But she's also disappointed environmentalists, including opponent Colson, who say she's been too friendly to developers and cite her 2008 vote to let a Shady Hills developer shrink its portion of a wildlife corridor.

Mulieri defends her record and says the board is moving in the right direction as it emphasizes attracting good-paying jobs and encouraging future growth in already urbanizing areas — such as U.S. 19 and State Road 54 — and discouraging it in rural east Pasco. She said she wants another term to see those efforts come to fruition.

"I do think we can address the issue of people wanting slower growth," she said. "I just think everything is a balance and I don't see my opponent as being balanced on the issues."

Colson, 55, has made his name as environmental activist who in 1999 opposed the rezoning of the Oakstead development in Land O'Lakes and the county's comprehensive plan. The challenge by his group Citizens for Sanity ended up in a settlement that included new protections for the environment.

He has also opposed the Ridge Road extension project, and he fought the proposed T. Rowe Price project because a wetland will be paved over with a parking lot.

He says he wants to fire County Administrator John Gallagher for the county's failure to implement all the terms of the settlement agreement, including the enforcement of wildlife corridors.

Colson said he's had to be forceful because he is not speaking from a position of power, and he said he routinely sees commissioners dismiss citizens' arguments in favor of those by lawyers and developers. But if elected to the commission, he said, he'd be able to work with fellow commissioners and county staff.

"I will have the bully pulpit," he said at a recent debate. "I will have the opportunity to point out what the facts are."

In addition to his activism, Colson made headlines in recent years for run-ins with the law. He pleaded no contest to a 2005 misdemeanor battery charge. He was also found guilty of violating multiple county ordinances related to animal control, one as recent as 2006.

Most recently, a fellow church member told Tarpon Springs police that Colson had "cyberstalked" her through e-mail. No charges have been filed, and Colson said the woman's accusations are false.

District 4: Cox vs. Wilson

Cox, 46, has focused his re-election campaign on his roles in getting the county to draw up a business plan and luring financial firm T. Rowe Price to Pasco. His television commercial features a testimonial from the developer behind the property owner who sold the land to T. Rowe Price.

"I made those things happen," Cox said at a recent debate. "I am the individual bringing 3,000 jobs to the county."

Cox has been one of the most outspoken commissioners when it comes to pushing for 911 dispatch consolidation and holding the line on Pasco Sheriff Bob White's budget.

And he took heat this year for his role in pushing a sports complex aimed at attracting tournaments, primarily over the project's initial location near Heritage Springs.

"I want to emphasize the fact that there was a lot of talking until I promoted the idea," he said at a recent debate.

Wilson, a 37-year-old Republican, has tried to send voters the message that Cox, a Democrat, is beholden to developers, engineers and lawyers. He counted up the number of them who contributed to Cox's campaign at a recent debate.

"That is the person you have now," said Wilson, who says he would represent the voice of the people.

Wilson said he wants to make the county friendlier to small businesses. He said he had learned that the owner of a Krystal drive-through franchise had considered opening a location in Pasco but retreated after finding out he'd owe $85,000 in impact fees.

Cox said Wilson was missing the point of the county's new focus on attracting businesses with high-paying jobs. "That business owner was a fast-food restaurant," Cox said. "And that's not the kind of business I'm trying to create."

Wilson made a misstep last week when he filed an inaccurate complaint against Cox with the Florida Elections Commission. He had put together a spreadsheet showing Cox had taken more than the $500 maximum contribution from a number of people and businesses. The problem was that Wilson had his dates wrong; candidates are allowed to accept $500 before the primary election and another $500 from that same donor before the general election.

Cox demanded an apology, and, in the end, Wilson gave him one.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

District 2

Clay Colson, 55, of Land O'Lakes is a community activist making his first run for office as a nonparty candidate. He took classes at Hillsborough Community College. He is a founder of Citizens for Sanity who has immersed himself in the details of state land use law.

Pat Mulieri, 72, of Gowers Corner is the Republican incumbent seeking her fifth term on the County Commission. She has an associate's degree from Farmingdale University, a bachelor's degree from State University of New York, a master's in education from Hofstra University and a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University. She is a retired English professor at Pasco-Hernando Community College.

District 4

Michael Cox, 46, of New Port Richey is the Democratic incumbent seeking a second term. He went to Pinellas Vocational Technical Institute and the University of South Florida, where he earned a certificate in financial planning. He works as a certified financial planner for Morgan Stanley. Cox's political experience includes six years on the Port Richey City Council, including three years as mayor.

Henry Wilson Jr., 37, of New Port Richey is a Republican making his first run for office. He took classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College and works as director of managed care for SDI Diagnostic Imaging in Tampa, a job he says he would resign if elected. He is a precinct chairman for the Pasco Republican Executive Committee.



.Candidate bios

Two Pasco races pit newbies against commission incumbents 10/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 23, 2010 2:52pm]

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