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Easterling shrugs off commission tiff on out-of-district appearances

Last month, Hillsborough Commissioner Ronda Storms accused an unnamed commissioner _ wink, wink, Stacey Easterling _ of appearing at civic groups outside her district, staff members in tow. Storms said government employees were being pressed into service at campaign-tinged events.

Sure enough, Easterling's two office aides showed up at the Bloomingdale Civic Association monthly meeting July 1 with a handful of top county officials. Bloomingdale, in east Hillsborough County, is well outside Easterling's south and west Tampa district.

Easterling said she represented the whole county. She said she had popped in to one of the group's meetings unannounced a month earlier, and the group was contemplating hiring a lawyer to advise them on several zoning and code enforcement issues. She suggested they hear from a few county employees first and helped set it up.

The commissioner said she skipped the follow-up meeting on purpose, sending her aides instead, to avoid looking like she was campaigning.

Easterling is leaving her district seat to run against Commissioner Jim Norman for an at-large seat. She noted that Norman, who currently represents northern Hillsborough and is a Storms ally, did the same thing recently in her district. And she said she has no problem with that.

"If more commissioners are interested in my district, I'm happy, because that means there are more heads looking at the issues," she said. "I'm not insecure about how I serve my district."

By the way, the staff's advice to the Bloomingdale group? Hire a lawyer.

RASHID'S ABSENCE NOTED All the Republican regulars were at the Ice Palace last week to celebrate Tampa's selection as a finalist to host the 2004 Republican National Convention.

All the regulars but Sam Rashid.

Rashid, the Plant City businessman who raises thousands for GOP candidates, didn't sound bothered that he wasn't invited to the event. Rashid hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with party establishment types such as developer Al Austin and county chairwoman Margie Kincaid.

Asked why he didn't attend the event, Rashid said: "Why would I?"

"My forte," Rashid said, "is making sure taxpayers are taken care of in this county."

NEW ENTRY FOR AT-LARGE SEAT Susan Valdes, 37 and a Democrat, has filed to run for the same commission seat Norman and Easterling, both Republicans, are seeking. Valdez ran for the Hillsborough School Board in 1996 and was defeated in the primary runoff.

Most of her volunteer experience relates to schools, but Valdes says she wants to be a commissioner to build upon "a shared consensus and shared vision for a brighter future."

Her entry is significant because it affects the Republican primary. Until she announced, no one else had entered the at-large contest. If it had stayed that way, all voters, Democrats, Republicans and everyone else, would have gotten to vote in the primary between Easterling and Norman.

If Valdes qualifies _ and this is qualifying week _ the primary will be closed and will allow only Republican voters, shaping the campaigns of both candidates.

CAMPAIGN FUNDRAISING All of the campaign reports for Hillsborough commission candidates are now in. Here's a quick rundown for the six seats up for election:

District 1, south and west Tampa _ Democrats: Kathy Castor raised $49,490 in her first quarter of campaigning; John Dingfelder brought in $23,435, also in his first quarter; Michael Eurick raised $1,200 in his first quarter; Mimi Osiason added $16,190 in cash and loans to bring her total to $37,040; and Michael Quintana raised doubts about whether he will stay in by filing a waiver. Republicans: Stephen Fuller raised $2,175 in his first quarter; and Gene Wells added $6,805 bringing him to $14,460.

District 2, northern Hillsborough _ Republicans: Will Craig took his total to $12,225 after adding $5,825; Jim Davison now stands at $25,285 after taking in another $5,020; Ken Hagan added $19,530 in cash to his overall $60,487 total (which includes $20,000 in personal loans); Denise Lasher built her leading total of $85,426 with an added $23,846 (which included a $2,000 loan); and Denise "Dee" Layne pulled in another $7,300, taking her total to $34,025. Democrat Ron Dyser took in another $13,607 to bring his tally to $28,672. And nonpartisan Rod Gaudin now has $10,963 after adding $4,536.

District 3, central Tampa _ Democrat Incumbent Tom Scott added just $1,550 to bring his total to $34,200. He didn't need to add much as neither Republican Jacqueline Knight nor Charles Perkins, no party affiliation, recorded any contributions, though both insisted they plan to stay in the race.

District 4, east and south Hillsborough _ Republicans: Willens Levasseur brought in no cash; Incumbent Ronda Storms added $10,875 to bring her total to $36,045; and Arlene Waldron more than doubled her kitty to $26,193 with $15,883 in quarterly contributions. Democrat Anthony Pawlisz still doesn't have enough to qualify after adding $2,595 ($1,000 of it a loan), bringing his total to $2,896.

District 5, at large _ Republicans: Jim Norman added $13,100 to bring the largest war chest of all candidates to $141,134; and Stacey Easterling recorded $61,820 in her first quarter of fundraising.

District 7, at large _ Democrats: Ed Crawford added $5,765 to bring his total to $7,515; incumbent Pat Frank took in another $17,590 and now stands at $44,707. Republican Brian Blair leads her with $47,379 (including a $4,000 loan) after adding another $8,055.

CALENDAR: The Compass Project, the county's fledgling nonpartisan political organization, hosts a candidate access event for county commission candidates tonight at the Columbia in Ybor City at 5:30 p.m. The SouthShore Roundtable is holding a nonpartisan event with candidates for office from 1-5 p.m. Saturday at the Sun City Center Community Hall, 1910 S Pebble Beach Blvd., in Sun City Center. Republican Faye Culp will hold a fundraiser tonight from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the home of Betsy and Gil Singer, 3406 W Mullen Ave. Call 258-9896 to RSVP. Culp is running for the state House seat in south Tampa being vacated by Rep. Chris Hart IV.

_ Got a tip? Times Staff Writer Bill Varian can be reached at 226-3387 or variansptimes.com, and David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karpsptimes.com.

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