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New mayor presides over change

(ran East edition)

A new mayor took the reins during 2004, a year of economic churnings and a few poignant passings.

Hutch Brock, a downtown lawyer, won re-election to the City Commission without a challenge and was selected mayor by his fellow commissioners to replace Scott Black. And educator Steve Van Gorden took a seat on the commission after ousting incumbent Lowell Harris.

Right away, Brock began presiding over a period of promising change. Annexations were a hot topic all year, but none created more excitement than the announcement in October that fruit shipper Citrus Country Groves had bought 57 acres at the former Lykes Pasco beverage plant. The company plans to redevelop the site, establish a business park and annex into the city.

At the urging of one nonprofit group, and to the dismay of several residents, city commissioners passed an ordinance that could change the flavor of some public festivals.

Downtown Dade City Main Street sought a new ordinance that would allow alcohol sales and consumption at the group's annual fundraiser in December. All commissioners supported the measure except Black, who said he feared for the city's family-friendly reputation.

Several residents spoke out with similar concerns, but the ordinance was approved.

The city lost some beloved residents during the year.

Earl McKinney was 80 when he died of complications from cancer surgery in May. Known for his cheery disposition and consistent individualism, McKinney once clashed with a church pastor over his choice of Christmas lawn decorations. A Dade City native, he fought in World War II and served in the Army until 1966. Upon retirement, he returned to his hometown and worked at Otto's Department Store for 18 years.

Lewis Abraham, a Lacoochee native and well-known real estate agent, died in November. Abraham, 79, spent his life championing the preservation of local history and efforts to improve the area's future. He pitched wild ideas for attracting visitors, served on the City Commission, worked for the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village, and couldn't walk through downtown without bumping into a dozen friends.

A new playground erected in Lacoochee in December was named for him.

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