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2 candidates, 1 name breeds unwanted confusion

When Pat Fagan decided to run for a seat on the Hernando County School Board, he was counting on name recognition to help mount a successful campaign. Living in the county for most of his life, and being director of the county Parks and Recreation Department, have given him the opportunity to meet a lot of people.

But now he's worried that instead of helping his campaign, name recognition may hurt him. Most frustrating is that he has done nothing to cause it, and can do nothing about it.

Fagan's problem? He shares a surname with Bill Fagan, who is on the general election ballot as the Democratic candidate for County Commission District 1.

Bill Fagan was the subject of a Sept. 16 Times story that highlighted an Internet mail-order business he financed for his wife, Donna. The Web site, www.sweetsecretions.com, offers pills and a promise that those who take them will enjoy oral sex more. Mrs. Fagan says she developed the herbal remedy because medications her husband took made certain intimate moments unpleasant.

Problems are meant to be solved and products are meant to be sold. As for how the product is marketed, the pitch is not much more provocative _ and certainly less intrusive _ than the avalanche of advertisements we endure every day that promise to enhance our sex lives. (You know, the ones that enable, ostensibly, men to toss a football with amazing accuracy threw a tire hanging from a tree, and women with contented smiles to sashay in slow motion around their beach houses in streaming white linens).

If there's a criticism of Bill Fagan's involvement in Sweet Secretions, it is that he did not disclose it along with the other businesses he's involved with. When one runs for public office, one must be prepared to bare all, so to speak.

Regardless of what I think, the fact is some people are uncomfortable with the subject matter and it could cost Bill Fagan some votes on Nov. 2.

Pat Fagan is hopeful it won't cost him, too.

People who don't know either candidate, and who may not keep up with politics or read the newspaper as closely as they should, may be confused because they have the same last name.

Pat Fagan says it's already happening.

"It's starting to confuse even friends and people I've known for years," Fagan said. "My son was on his way to a Bucs game and one of his friends asked "What's this I hear about your dad and mom?' "

And there are other similarities that may confuse casual observers. Pat Fagan has a son named Bill. Bill Fagan and Pat Fagan both have sons named Patrick. And, both Patrick Fagans are fathers of twins.

"People get you mixed up. Bill is 58 years old and I'm 55. One person even said Bill looks kind of like me," Pat Fagan said.

"Some people are making jokes. But my supporters are taking it very seriously," he said. "As soon as I read the story in the newspaper I knew immediately it could have a negative effect on my campaign. My mother-in-law was one of the first to call and say so."

Bill Fagan recognized that possibility, too. He telephoned Pat Fagan the day after the story ran and offered an apology in advance for any problems it might create.

The Fagans' opponents in their respective races also acknowledge the potential for voters to be confused, but for the most part, they don't think it will be a factor.

"One of my friends said her neighbor got the two confused, but that's been the only reaction," said Linda Prescott, who is running against Pat Fagan for the nonpartisan District 2 School Board seat.

"Elections should be decided on the candidates' merits. If I win I would hope to win because voters think I'm the best person for the job, not because of the confusion" about the candidates, Prescott said.

Jeff Stabins, Bill Fagan's Republican opponent, said he believes the confusion existed before the Aug. 31 primary election. "People thought Pat (Fagan) and I were running for the same office." Stabins thinks the story about Sweet Secretions actually will "do more to clarify the differences" between the candidates.

But Stabins has heard comments.

"One woman was offended and said she didn't like what she had read (about Bill Fagan). Another woman said that the news report made me a "shoo-in' to win in November. I reminded her that the first time my dad voted, he voted for a shoo-in, too _ Thomas Dewey," Stabins said, referring to the favored presidential candidate who lost to Harry Truman in 1948.

Bill Fagan says he has taken some good-natured ribbing but hasn't heard any comments that lead him to believe the Sweet Secretions publicity will reflect negatively on his County Commission campaign. So, given that belief, he doesn't think it can harm Pat Fagan's bid for School Board.

Pat Fagan is not sure.

"Campaigns have ups and downs. You think everything's fine and then _ boom! _ something like this happens," he said.

"There are an awful lot of seniors in the county and I don't know what their reaction might be to the story. I just want to clear the air and let people know Bill Fagan and I are two very different people running for two very different offices," he said.

At candidate forums leading up to the primary election, Bill Fagan often introduced himself by saying "I'm Bill Fagan, not to be confused with the distinguished Pat Fagan, who is a candidate for School Board," and also noted the two are not related.

With at least 10 more forums scheduled between now and Nov. 2, Pat Fagan hopes Bill Fagan will continue to make that distinction.

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