TAMPA — "He's been mute for five years."
"He sits there like a little mouse."
"His history is one of waiting for others to bring real solutions to the table."
Never in his seven-year political career has Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan been criticized like this. The question is whether anybody is paying attention.
Hagan's challenger, Tom Aderhold of Keystone, blasts Hagan from his Web site and from the street. He's been knocking on doors for three months in their north Hillsborough district.
As of this week, Aderhold has assembled $26,000 for his campaign, including $22,000 he loaned to it. Hagan has campaign contributions of $222,000.
"If you look into my opponent's campaign, you will recognize a significant ... difference between my opponent's level of support and mine," Hagan says.
That isn't the only significant difference between the two Republicans, who face each other in Tuesday's primary election.
Hagan, 40, of Carrollwood, is one of Hillsborough's most understated politicians. He has chaired the commission since November, coaxing it away from controversy.
After winning a two-year term in 2002, he is running for his second four-year term. Hagan relies on door-to-door campaigning and eschews debates.
"I don't get into the mudslinging and back and forth," he said.
Aderhold, 64, is president of the Keystone Civic Association, a retired business owner and a provocative ideas man. He accuses Hagan of being timid.
"I don't run from problems," he says. "I engage them."
And yet, last year Hagan did engage one of the county's most chronic headaches: traffic.
Chairing a transportation task force, he persuaded fellow commissioners to borrow $500-million for intersection improvements, road widenings and other traffic relievers to be carried out over five years.
Aderhold has called the plan wasteful pork. "Its cost is staggering and won't subside until this commission starts to manage growth," he says.
Hagan notes: "I've voted against every tax increase that's come before our board."
Hagan also cites two child-safety initiatives he led last year. One banned sexual predators from going within 300 feet of places where children gather. Another required children to take an Internet-safety course before using library computers.
Hagan touts a new library and park in Seffner, dog parks in Lutz and Temple Terrace, the Carrollwood Cultural Center and expansion of the Upper Tampa Bay Library.
"I'd have to rank parks and libraries way up there, as far as what I've done," Hagan says.
His next priorities? More recreation facilities, transportation funding, particularly mass transit, and affordable housing.
Aderhold says Hagan's real legacy is overdevelopment, congested roads, "crashing" home values and private sports leagues commandeering public parks.
Hagan has been strongly supported by developers. At least $100,000 of his current contributions have come from this group. Last year, he was one of four commissioners who tried to aid developers by scaling back wetlands protections.
In contrast, Aderhold's Keystone association has fended off developers for years. The group aims to keep Hillsborough's northwest corner pastoral.
"I don't want to create any armed camps, and we've got a huge armed-camp mentality between the community and developers," Aderhold says.
He advocates blocking growth unless developers pay for the matching infrastructure.
He also proposes:
• Wholesale consolidation of local government services such as law enforcement, fleet management, purchasing and information technology.
• Locating government facilities in power-line corridors.
• Building reserve funds in boom times for use in bad times.
• Diversifying the economy.
The only person ever to run a close race against Hagan thinks this could be the year when incumbents are most vulnerable.
Lutz's Denise Lasher lost to Hagan by 1,235 votes in 2002.
"I think there's an anti-incumbent sentiment with voters this year from the top to the bottom of the ticket," Lasher said.
A Republican herself, she said "I think people are just blaming Republicans for everything."
For most of this year, that loomed as a big factor in the Hagan vs. Aderhold race. They were the sole candidates, so Tuesday's GOP primary would have been open up to all the district's 180,674 voters.
But on June 17, three days before the deadline, a mysterious Harold Gleason filed as a write-in candidate. Gleason, 33, who occasionally works at a Carrollwood bar, has kept himself thoroughly out of reach of reporters.
As a write-in, he won't be on November's ballots. Yet his candidacy limits Tuesday's decisive election to Republicans only, 39 percent of the district's voters.
Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.