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In Dunedin, politics ratchet up

Mimicking a national trend, candidates are raising more money and hiring consultants. But is it more sophisticated office seekers, or does voter apathy drive the issue?

Earlier this year, politics in this city of 35,000 people reached a new level when Mayor Tom Anderson gathered $16,000 for his re-election campaign.

Last year, Commissioner Deborah Kynes employed a high-profile political consulting firm and raised a surprising $13,000 in her first bid for the City Commission.

This year, incumbent Janet Henderson is continuing a trend toward bigger money and more sophisticated techniques as she campaigns for a second term. She has taken in almost $11,000, twice as much as any of the other three candidates. Of that, she contributed $1,000 of her own money.

There's little doubt that politics in Dunedin are beginning to mirror what is happening in larger political arenas. As government becomes more professional in Dunedin, so will its politics.

"The fact that Dunedin politics have been getting more sophisticated is a function of Dunedin politics have been growing up," Henderson said. "Our whole political attitude in Dunedin is more sophisticated."

Commissioner Cecil Englebert took a 17-year hiatus from Dunedin politics before running for re-election in 1999. Campaigning had definitely changed, he said.

"It costs you more money," he said. "I was totally surprised at the cost of things in order just to keep up. I did a lot of things last time I'd never done before and spent more time advertising."

Henderson represents one end of an extreme fundraising spectrum candidates are taking in this commission election. As in the case of Kynes, Henderson has sought campaign advice from consultants Repper and Garcia, whom she will pay $2,000.

While she has accepted thousands of dollars from businesses and individuals outside the city, former commissioner Tom Osborne is running a rather inexpensive $2,000 campaign paid for with his own money.

Osborne has said he doesn't want to be beholden to anyone by accepting their money. He is critical of the amount of money that has been spent by others to campaign in Dunedin, and where that money has come from.

"It's an overkill," he said. "I'd look to where it comes from. If you have support from the citizens of Dunedin who are concerned enough about having you on the commission and are willing to donate money to see you get on the commission, I have no problem with that _ $10 here, $20 there."

Incumbent Commissioner John Doglione, seeking a fourth term, has raised almost twice as much money as he ever has _ almost $5,000 this year, $1,000 of which is his own money. He said there is no question, campaigning has become more difficult. In years past his campaigns succeeded with less than $3,000. It's a different story today.

"It's keeping up with the Joneses," Doglione said.

Doglione collected his money much the same way Henderson did, by holding a campaign kickoff event at Bon Appetit restaurant. Doglione's invitations simply noted the event was a fundraiser but it did not directly solicit donations. His donations have come from Dunedin residents in amounts of $20 to $100. One person donated $200.

Candidate Wayne Dailey had raised $2,600 as of Jan. 14 but said since then he has taken in another $2,000. He said he has gathered his money from friends he has known for years. Dailey said he sent about 75 letters to supporters in October asking for contributions.

"Many of them we've been friends with for years in the political world, people that are active in politics in every election," Dailey said.

Three years ago when Henderson ran, she raised $8,500. She said she knew she would need a little more than that because of increased costs. However, she said she has not had an active fundraising campaign. Her contributions reflect her connections and level of involvement in the community, she said.

There are numerous donations from lawyers, some of whom she said she knows from her professional career as a commercial real estate agent.

Other politicians and community leaders have given to Henderson, including: Safety Harbor Mayor Pam Corbino, former commissioner Jack St. Arnold, Tarpon Springs Commissioner David Archie, state Sen. Jack Latvala and his wife, Susan Latvala, who sits on the School Board. She has received money from Eller Media Co. based in Texas, Hooters Restaurant in Clearwater, Northside Engineering in Clearwater, Sea Sea Riders Restaurant in Dunedin and jeweler Gaston Marticorena, who is building a store downtown.

"I've really had a broad base of support and I've been really happy about that," Henderson said. "I've had people from all parts of the city and all different interests supporting me."

If candidates are having to raise more money in Dunedin, that's a direct reflection on voter involvement, said St. Arnold, a Dunedin attorney and former commissioner who ran a $7,000 campaign in 1996 and a $5,600 campaign in 1993.

"The more apathetic the electorate becomes, the harder it is to get your message across," St. Arnold said. "You end up spending more money on media. If you don't do anything, you don't do anything other than bring out the hard-core voters."

Political consultant Wayne Garcia said his firm normally would not get involved in campaigns in cities the size of Dunedin, but he and his partner, Mary Repper, knew both Kynes and Henderson. Nationally, he said, politics are getting more expensive and complicated.

Candidates at the local level face an even greater challenge in that races get very little coverage in the media, except for newspapers, he said.

"What it all boils down to is the public gets more information from the candidate," he said. "You're seeing more people feel like they want to be prepared, and "I'm not going to let someone blindside me.' It's a national trend. More people want to make sure they are prepared and get their message across. They are using more sophisticated means to get their message across."