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Candidates abound in St. Leo

(ran East edition)

The race is on in St. Leo, where seven candidates have filed to run for three Town Commission seats.

It's the most crowded race in recent memory, said Town Clerk Joan Miller, St. Leo's only full-time employee.

The April 14 election pits longtime incumbents against relative newcomers from the Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club. There's also a wild card, a Saint Leo University sophomore looking to make his foray into politics by helping steer the town of 1,060.

At the center of the race is the Lake Jovita development itself. About 100 homes were built inside town limits; the other 800 are in unincorporated Pasco County. The St. Leo homeowners have said they're frustrated because they pay both city and county property taxes but don't think they get many extra benefits.

They filed a petition last month asking the town to de-annex their homes. In response, town leaders formed a committee to study the pros and cons of such a move. The three challengers from Lake Jovita all signed the de-annexation petition.

Seat 1

Sister Donna DeWitt, a nun from the Holy Name Monastery, is facing two challengers: James Gajewski, a Lake Jovita resident, and Thomas "Bubba" Tatum, a 22-year-old sophomore at Saint Leo University.

Gajewski could not be reached for comment.

Tatum, a political science major, said a serious discussion with his fraternity brothers inspired him to run. They were discussing life and expectations. Many people complain, they surmised, but few work to make it better.

That's when he decided to run "to see what kind of impact I could make," he said.

He's not sure where he stands on the Lake Jovita de-annexation issue.

"It's a touchy subject," he said. "They're basically being double-taxed."

The race is the first time DeWitt will face competition for a seat she has held since 1997.

The de-annexation case will be tough, she said, because she understands how the residents feel, yet the town does provide them with police and garbage service. Without their tax revenue, it's unclear whether the town could afford to pay $64,000 for extra service from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, she said.

Seat 3

Richard Christmas is running for re-election against Erik Pierce, a Lake Jovita resident.

Christmas, 45, has been on the commission since 1994. He said there are many issues facing the town such as Lake Jovita's de-annexation request and looking at the effects of the State Road 52 extension that would take the thoroughfare around the town.

He declined to say where he stood on de-annexation. Christmas, who worked at the Cogeneration Power Plant in Dade City, grew up in St. Leo.

Pierce could not be reached for comment.

Seat 5

James Hallett, a monk at Saint Leo Abbey and the town's current mayor, faces R. Drew Dowling, a 68-year-old retired Lake Jovita resident.

Dowling said said he's running to help represent Lake Jovita.

His view on de-annexation? "I think I would leave it short. I signed the petition . . . I just think we need to look into it." He has lived in St. Leo for four years.

Hallett could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Terms in the nonpartisan races are two years and unpaid.

San Antonio

There won't be an election this year in San Antonio. Three incumbents will all proceed unopposed into their next terms: Mayor Roy Pierce and City Commissioners Heiskell Christmas and Dennis Phillips. Terms in the nonpartisan races are two years and are unpaid. The five commissioners choose the mayor, who then appoints each commissioner to head a city department.

Times staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report.

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