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Mayoral campaign hits a snag

Louie Colandria, a longtime resident, Vietnam veteran and commander of the city's American Legion post, will run for mayor in April.

But a full nine months before the election, his campaign already has hit a snag.

Colandria, 58, wants to host a campaign fundraiser and block party in downtown Zephyrhills on Aug. 16 to publicize his candidacy. He has invited musical acts, vendors and the voting public to attend.

But city officials say they won't get involved in a political event.

"It is my belief that political activities should be conducted on private property _ or at least on public property that does not interfere with or compromise public employees or business," City Manager Steve Spina wrote in a July 2 letter to Colandria.

Spina suggested Krusen Field, Zephyr Park, the Senior Center or the Lions Club as alternatives.

But Colandria and a group of business owners who make up his campaign committee say they aren't ready to give up. The group met Thursday at Sunrise Publishing, owned by Jason Hoy, to discuss a course of action.

"How are you compromising business if you're encouraging activity and inviting children?" wondered Gail Church, co-owner of Church's Treats, an ice cream truck business.

Hoy argued the only difference between Colandria's event, dubbed "A Night Out with Louie," and a typical city celebration, is who's hosting it.

"It's ultimately the same thing they hold every other time," Hoy said. "The only thing that's different is we're a private group."

Spina's decision apparently overrode the recommendation of the city's site plan review committee, which approved Colandria's request in a June 25 meeting. The group had no objections as Colandria had agreed to pay the necessary overtime to city employees and had provided insurance and a release of liability, according to a memo.

But Spina insists the city should stay out of it.

"I don't mind him doing anything, actually. But I don't think it's right that we close city streets for a political event," Spina said. "It's not a community-wide thing. We're not allowed to participate in any political activity at work."

Colandria said Thursday he will try to appeal his case to the City Council, in a meeting set for 6 p.m. July 14.

A full-time student and owner of a computer-repair business, Colandria said as mayor he will bring attention to the city's full-time residents, who he thinks are ignored by City Hall, and to young people.

"Zephyrhills is a retirement town, but there's also young people with families," he said. "We have to have more things to occupy young minds."

He supports building a skateboard park for kids _ a project that's already in the works _ and would like to see more diversity among businesses downtown.

"You've got to give downtown something to bring people in," he said.

While recognizing that the mayor of Zephyrhills is largely a public relations role _ the mayor has veto power but no vote on the council _ Colandria says the position is important because it represents the city.

"The mayor really can't do much of anything," Colandria said. "All he can do is suggest. But the mayor is out there with the public. He sees what's going on."

_ Molly Moorhead covers news about Zephyrhills. She can be reached at (352) 521-5757 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is moorheadsptimes.com.

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