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Candidates tout their fiscal know-how

One brings a background in banking to the table, the other 26 years as proprietor of her own business. Each promises to make Hillsborough County a better place to live.

Republican Chris Hart and Democrat Paddy Moses each want to replace four-term County Commissioner Jan Platt, who is barred from seeking re-election to the District 5 countywide seat.

A former president and owner of Norrell Temporary Services & Personnel Consultants, Moses, 55, urges voters to choose her because she brings a business background to the job. Moses said she wants to see the county manage its money better and believes consolidating some government services to prevent a mushrooming bureaucracy is key.

"Let's create private sector jobs in the community instead of public handouts," Moses said. "I have true business experience of working with hundreds of companies getting the most efficient production and maintaining costs, while staying within budget. No other candidate has that experience in our community."

Hart, however, would disagree. He says his background as a banking and management consultant makes him the best choice.

"I'm going to bring leadership to bring a solid consensus for the future direction and prosperity of Hillsborough County," Hart said. "I'll bring our community together to solve common issues like water, crime and safe neighborhoods for our children."

As a consultant with the American Institute of Banking for the past six years, Hart, 50, said he wants to help county government achieve a better balance between economic development and environmental concerns, while also putting a higher priority on providing money for roads, mass transit, utilities and public facilities.

The institute is an educational arm of the American Banking Association, based in Washington D.C.

If the ability to collect campaign contributions is any indicator, Moses is ahead of the game. According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Moses has garnered contributions totaling $47,719 to Hart's $29,228. And if party affiliation is a factor, Moses has a slight edge with 52 percent of voters countywide registered as Democrats.

Despite that, Hart is confident he has a wide base of support.

"I've proven that in the primary by winning 68 percent," Hart said, "and sampling in the recent months confirms that."

But Joe Elena Weachter, who lost to Hart in the Republican primary, attributed the massive margin of her loss to Hart's appeal to conservative Christians. Hart was endorsed by the Brandon group Family Action Council Political Committee, which says it supports traditional family values.

Weachter, who crossed party lines to endorse Moses, said Hart appeals to the conservative churchgoers the council claims to represent by opposing civil rights for homosexuals.

Hart, however, said the issue of civil rights for gays and lesbians has not been part of his campaign.

"If it became an issue of our community, I would recommend it become a vote of the people so citizens of our community can decide the norms of the county," Hart said.

Moses' effort to capture the countywide seat also has not been without detractors. Late in the campaign, former husband Delbert Moses disclosed remarks she made during a 1978 child custody hearing. According to transcripts, she used a racial epithet while telling the court that she did not want her children visiting their father while he lived in an apartment across from a public housing complex. Moses denied she expressed any prejudice, explaining she was concerned about her children's safety and was repeating what they had come home saying.

Any backlash from the incident has been mostly positive, Moses said.

"People have walked up to me and said, "You did the right thing. I would have done the same thing. I admire you,' " Moses said. "That has encouraged me and given me new hope."

Despite the controversy, former primary opponent Gerald White, an African-American utility company worker, maintained his support of Moses, as well as pledging the support of other African-American community leaders.

Hart, meanwhile, took a hands-off attitude when asked if he thought Moses' 16-year-old remark, culled from a deposition, would have any bearing on the election.

"I'm not addressing that because I'm not running any form of negative campaign, and I'm not running against my opponent, but for this community," he said.

This is Hart's second run for a commission seat. He lost a bid for an at-large seat in 1990 to Joe Chillura. Hart served a four-year term on the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. He brings an extensive military record to the race, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in the Army, and worked as a Joint Chiefs of Staff aide with the National Security Council.

As for his current job, Hart was more reticent to discuss how much of his living he makes from banking and management consultant jobs.

His financial disclosure form shows that he earned $14,944 last year from Logicon Inc., a firm for which he has done consulting. But the other primary sources of income Hart listed include real estate income at $156,111 and a military pension of $30,384. The American Enterprise Institute, Hart's employer as a consultant, is listed under secondary sources of income with no dollar amount given. So how much of Hart's living is earned from his consulting work?

He can't say. Hart said the fluctuating nature of the economy makes it difficult to name a dollar amount he earns from consulting, or even a ball park figure. He also declined to give examples of companies for which he had done consulting work. He said some of his consulting jobs have been with overseas companies that demand privacy.

"There's no cloak and dagger _ but for proprietary purposes, some companies don't want people to know and wouldn't appreciate me telling," Hart said.

The American Enterprise Institute's executive director, Jeanne Berry, praised Hart's contribution to the banking industry.

"There are not enough people who will give of themselves the way he will," Berry said. "He has a strong commitment not only to the banking industry, but to Hillsborough County and the people of Hillsborough County."

Both candidates pledge to make a difference in the community.

"This is home. You can put your arms around it," Hart said. "It became very clear, the more I got involved, and the more questions I asked, the more need there was to get involved and help bring to the table a consensus that caused good things to happen."

For Moses, getting elected would mean an extension of her public service to the community.

"I view running for office as one more way to do community service and not as a stepping stone," Moses said. "I want to bring my business experience to the job. I know how to examine budgets and manage money, and I'd do that."