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More than just candidates

Most voters see County Commissioner Steve Simon toiling in a mundane, jargon-filled world.

He sits at the commission dais, occasionally peering over his glasses as someone speaks at the podium.

Your eyes are getting sleepy.

He deals in zoning and spending, votes that often blend together and sometimes get on people's nerves.

Sleepy.

Even in casual conversation, he will drift into details of tax calculations and "de minimis" this and "nexus" that, rattling off the exact assessed value of all Pasco County properties.

Very sleepy.

It is not, however, that Steve Simon is playing the part of government insider. It is a side of him that overshadows the more sympathetic parts of his life.

Married 33 years to wife Lillian, he is the father of two grown daughters and - he gleams at this point - grandfather of 21-month-old Isabella.

While policy scoops get him talking, he gets every bit as concerned when his pride and joy are around him. One recent evening after a campaign forum, daughter Amanda told him she and Isabella were leaving via traffic-snarled State Road 54 after a crash.

"Oh, don't tell me that when you're carrying that little one," said Simon, 54.

To support his other daughter Stefanie, a star athlete, he managed a West Pasco Dixie girls softball team for four years. He fulfilled a promise to Amanda by training for a year and running a marathon with her in 2002. He brought a single-minded style to sports, too.

Carl Guercio, his best friend, helped coach the softball team, which was the start of their friendship a decade ago. Before games, they met for an hour, plotting substitutions and game plan. Simon used big words then, too - always doing things all the way, but "not looking to impress," Guercio said.

"Almost to the point of almost overkill," said Guercio, 48. "We needed to know exactly what our plan was before the first pitch of the first inning. And you know what, it almost always worked out exactly as we planned it."

Sometimes, though, the vocabulary and exhaustive details turn folks off. As a commissioner, Simon has been "an adherent to logic" and able "to digest complex arguments," said former Commissioner Peter Altman, a Democrat who has disagreed with Simon as well as election opponent Michael Cox.

Simon calls it the teacher in him, particularly when he is speaking to residents. He stopped a career as real estate license law instructor to be a commissioner, where he makes the most of his annual income. But he draws on that career in policy debates.

Still, would people want Simon in their living rooms?

"I guess if you were starved for conversation," Altman cracked.

While Simon has become entrenched in county leadership, he started far from it. Before entering the real estate industry, he ran a pizza shop and served as a bowling alley pro. That was after giving up college, short on funds and his mom ill in his native New York. Much of his education is his own experience.

"We had nothing," he said.

In that sense, his own hand again may determine his fate in Tuesday's election. He has tried to fight off criticism after the Times reported in February he used the Internet for personal use during commission meetings. Cox has anchored his campaign attacks on the misuse.

It has made Simon appear anxious in the final weeks of the campaign, fretting over details. He has apologized more than once, often trying to minimize the occurrences vs. his entire record over eight years.

He tells crowds he taught growth management - thanks to his real estate career - before the state made it law. Now he uses it to help guide the county, and help people.

Although Simon thrives on the ordinary duties on the dais, friends say he is something more.

David DeCamp can be reached at (727) 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

Steve Simon

Bet you did not know: Simon has bowled several perfect games of 300. He used to run a pro shop at the Lane Glo Bowl in New Port Richey, serving as the house pro in 1985-86.

Dicey political moment: Simon won re-election as a Democrat in 2002, but changed to Republican that December. Democrats said he was being opportunistic. Simon says the Republican platform on national issues matches his politics.

If he loses: "I imagine in a very short period of time, it's going to feel like, stabbed. Are you asking me ... if I'll be heartbroken? I like my job."

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