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District 4 race a matter of money

The two candidates for Hillsborough County Commission District 4 have important things in common.

Both are new to politics. Both rose from entry-level jobs in their respective fields to executive positions. They have raised families.

And their stands on issues reflect the views of the conservative suburbs and rural areas in the district they have called home for decades: concern about crime, jobs and water; no government subsidies for sports teams; no equal-protection law for gays and lesbians.

Now, the differences.

Linda Ray Barrow is the Democratic candidate; Dottie Berger, the Republican. Party rolls in District 4, which covers east and south Hillsborough, are nearly equal in number, though. So party affiliation might not be a decisive factor.

A bigger difference is money.

According to the latest reports available, Berger has raised more monetary and in-kind contributions _ $55,534. Berger has lent her own campaign just $1,000. Barrow has raised $16,302, but that figure includes $7,200 she lent her own campaign.

Barrow makes no apologies for her smaller treasury. She says it reflects the grass-roots nature of her campaign, as well as one of her principal objections to Berger: contributions from outside District 4, including many from citizens and businesses in Tampa.

"You need someone to represent you to the best of their ability," Barrow told residents of Apollo Beach at a candidates' forum last week.

Berger's reports list donations from a number of lawyers, engineers, ranchers, tire suppliers, and from the land foundations and personal account of Bob Thomas, the Hillsborough philanthropist and landowner who has employed Berger for more than 20 years _ first as a personal assistant, ultimately as a corporate officer.

Like Barrow, Berger isn't apologetic about the size of her campaign fund. She said the healthy treasury reflects the good will of many people she has known professionally and socially over the years. She also said that despite the Tampa support, her work has been centered squarely in east county _ at the Two Rivers Ranch and Crystal Springs Recreational Preserve.

Barrow criticizes Berger on that point, Berger said, "because what else does she have to draw on?"

Barrow's professional accomplishments include organizing the non-instructional employees of the Hillsborough School Board _ where she started as a bus driver _ and serving as the union's leader for five years.

A number of organized-labor political action committees accompany the grass-roots contributors on Barrow's treasury listings. Berger has received some union money, too. Barrow said she is not "Jimmy Hoffa in drag," and has no plan to take special care of union interests. The union question, in fact, is another similarity between the candidates _ both support employees' right to choose collective bargaining.

Both candidates oppose the present structure of impact fees. Both would like to see the county give more encouragement to businesses to locate here. Barrow has suggested spreading out impact fees over a five-year payment schedule.

At the Apollo Beach candidate forum, Berger and Barrow gave brief speeches outlining their views on the issues.

Barrow said local government harbors "a lot of dead wood, a lot of bloat" _ she later said the City-County Planning Commission and the county's planning department are duplicating each other's work.

Berger, who also said she's concerned about duplication, noted her role in founding Joshua House, a shelter for abused children, and said, "If we took better care of our children, we wouldn't have problems with them later."

Without making specific pledges, both candidates said they are concerned about residents' tax burdens.

The candidates spoke to an audience of several dozen Apollo Beach residents. Afterward, some residents declined to talk on the record about the candidates, saying they either didn't have enough information or preferred to keep their views private.

One resident who did speak out was 70-year-old Kenneth Fisler, a retired Air Force navigator who works as a Realtor.

Fisler said he was concerned about water. His monthly bills range from $65 to $75 _ sometimes even higher in dry spells.

It disturbed him that two publicly financed water agencies _ the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority _ had entered into litigation with each other.

"They shouldn't be fighting," he said.

Both Barrow and Berger agree with him.