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Races include some lax voters

Several candidates in municipal elections have cast few ballots in Pasco _ or none at all.

When John DiGiorgio and Robby Poff step into the voting booth on April 10, it will be the first time either has cast a ballot in Pasco County.

Both are running for the City Council in New Port Richey, although neither has ever voted in a municipal election there.

"It's not that I haven't cared," Poff said. "I won't say that I've had the biggest involvement, but that's why I'm trying to get involved now."

"I was never really active in politics before this, but when I saw what was going on down here and how it was affecting other people, I decided to get involved," said DiGiorgio.

In this year's crop of city candidates, Poff and DiGiorgio are the only ones who have never cast a ballot for mayor or the City Council. For some, this will be their second or third vote locally. For others, it will be yet another in a decades-long series of votes.

Take Phyllis Grae, for instance. Grae, running for the Port Richey City Council, registered to vote in Pasco County in 1980 and moved to Port Richey in 1987. Since her move, she hasn't missed a single local election and has missed only a rare primary election.

"Maybe I'm just so American, and I think this is what this country is founded on," she said of her string of voting. "How can you give up your most precious freedom to choose who you want to represent you?"

The reasons given by those who haven't voted much in municipal elections run from too busy to just not paying attention to local issues.

Bill Bennett, a candidate for the Port Richey City Council, will vote for the second time in a municipal election next month.

He said he didn't have much of a reason for why he hasn't voted in his hometown elections or why he let his voter registration lapse, only to renew it in 1998. But as he looks back, he thinks his apathy was a mistake.

"There were times when I had no right to complain because I wasn't involved," he said. "That's part of the reason why I got involved, so I can have a say.

"I have been voting," he said of his recent involvement. "You may call it maturity; you may call it a time in life when you look at yourself and see if you can be an asset to your community."

The record for Jim Priest, who will cast his third local ballot next month, shows that most of his ballots have been cast in the general elections. He said his voting record has been spotty because he traveled while working for an overseas bank until 1998. But it was a zoning fight last year that got Priest involved locally.

"That piqued my interest dramatically," he said. "I wasn't a whole lot different than a lot of folks."

The other city candidates in Pasco are mostly regular voters. Port Richey mayoral candidates Bob Leggiere and Eloise Taylor registered the same year (1983) and have voted in the same number of local elections (eight).

In New Port Richey, council candidates Jack Van Keuren and Susan Clark have been voting like clockwork since the mid 1980s. Since the mid 1990s, candidates Bette Farmerie, Tom Finn, Ginny Miller and Robert Moore have been regular voters in Pasco.

In the only contested election in Zephyrhills, candidates Tim Ippolito and Mike Bussell have both voted regularly since they registered in Pasco in the early 1990s or late 1980s. Voters there also will cast their ballots April 10.

Poff registered in 1990, but since he didn't vote and didn't respond to notices from the Supervisor of Elections Office, his registration was purged. So when he went to vote in 1999, he was turned away, which upset him. DiGiorgio said his lack of voting was caused by apathy until the city's controversial street assessment program got his interest.

"A lot of people are not in politics, and it takes one certain thing to get them involved," DiGiorgio said.

_ Staff writer Chase Squires contributed to this report.