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Published Apr. 7, 2014

Two familiar faces with similar platforms of focusing on economic development will face off for the mayor's seat.

Former Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe and ex-City Council member Bob Langford were longtime players in New Port Richey politics until both departed for a year. Langford lost a bid to return to the council last year and Marlowe took a year off to spend more time with his family and focus on his downtown business, Gulfcoast Networking.

Now the former colleagues are running against each other in Tuesday's city elections in a race that each said has been respectful. They are vying to replace Mayor Bob Consalvo, who opted not to run again.

Marlowe, 60, said after two terms serving on council and a year off he is now ready to continue contributing to the city's emerging economic redevelopment. Marlowe said, if elected, he would begin refocusing the city on projects such as redeveloping the Hacienda and the launch of a planned business incubator.

Upon qualifying to run, Marlowe said that he would run meetings more efficiently than his opponent and added in an interview that he would drive an effort to increase City Council workshops, which would be idea sessions that would give city staff clearer direction.

"I think we would go forward as a much more unified force," Marlowe said.

Langford, 71, a sound recording engineer, said he decided to run when it appeared the seat would be won by Marlowe unopposed. He told the Times when he qualified he thought the public should have a choice.

And with his track record of nine years on the council and extensive community service, Langford said he is the best candidate.

"Mr. Marlowe is more about Mr. Marlowe than about the city. This is proven by his lack of community involvement other than serving on the City Council," Langford said.

Langford said his first order of business would be to push for re-installment of Community Redevelopment Agency grants that were successful in the past, promoting ecotourism on the Cotee River and sprucing up city entryways along U.S. 19.

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Incumbent, opponent view city differently

Incumbent Mayor Eloise Taylor and her opponent, political newcomer Kathy Todd, could not be further apart in their opinions on how the city is running.

Taylor, 71, won a special election in 2012 after the resignation of former mayor Richard Rober and previously served as Port Richey's mayor from 2000 to 2005. She said the city has had an unprecedented run of stability that she wants to continue.

Taylor, an attorney, said the time of Port Richey suffering from a poor reputation of infighting and cronyism has been turned around and under her leadership that will continue.

"I've worked very hard to bring stability and common sense and I feel we've moved a long distance than in past years," Taylor said. "I'm proud of that record."

Taylor said, if elected, she would continue to focus on the city running an efficient water utility, a renewed effort at dredging and improving infrastructure. Recently, she led an effort that resulted in the city reducing new irrigation water rates in response to protests from some residents over high bills.

Todd, 47, a U.S. Navy reservist, said her campaign is what spurred the rate reduction and action on other issues that had voters increasingly unhappy. She said the council not only lowered water rates, but city staff addressed debris pickup and increased law enforcement presence as a result of complaints made by her and others at City Hall.

"They reduced the water rates, cleaned up some of the streets, and have mowed grass where they haven't before," Todd said. "It's too bad elections don't come around more often, because we've gotten a lot done. And I'm ready to continue that if I'm elected."

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Experience, new ideas facing off for council

After six years in office, City Council member Jodi Wilkeson is facing a challenge from retired school administrator and football coach Alan Knight.

Wilkeson, 53, an architect and owner of the firm WDA Design Group, said her institutional knowledge will be a continued asset to the city as it develops into a hub for commerce. She said it will take experience on council to manage the growth that comes with major corporations looking to develop in Zephyrhills.

"We're sort of getting to critical mass," she said of growing development. "Very shortly, we are going to have the rooftops to attract those types of businesses."

Wilkeson's platform not only focuses on economic issues but social as well, with her desire to provide more services to the homeless in the community.

"If we don't address it, it's going to be addressed for us," she said.

Knight, 68, a lifelong resident who at one time served as principal and football coach at Zephyrhills High School, agreed that major development is on the way and needs to be managed. He also wants the city to construct a top-notch community park.

"I want it to stay that small-town atmosphere," he said. "We're growing by leaps and bounds and that growth and development has got to be controlled."

Knight said he is running to bring a fresh perspective. During his time as an administrator, Knight said he always appreciated the new teachers who would come in hungry to present new ideas.

"I want to be the new teacher. I want to bring in the fresh ideas," he said.

Knight and his wife, Karen, have two children and six grandchildren. (One of their sons is Tampa Bay Times sports reporter Joey Knight.)

Gene Whitfield, who with his wife owns and operates Whitfield Funeral Home and Cremation Services, will go in unopposed as mayor. Incumbent council member Kenneth Burgess also did not draw an opponent for Seat 4 and will begin another term.

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Opponent challenges incumbent's funding

Incumbent Commissioner Scott Black, for only the second time since being elected to the City Commission in 1990, has an opponent: Angie Herrera, whose campaign is primarily being funded by the family of Dade City's sitting mayor.

Herrera, 54, a center manager for Catholic Charities, made campaign contributions an issue at a March 24 candidate forum saying she would not participate in the event because a member of the event's sponsor, the Dade City Chamber of Commerce, had contributed to Black's campaign.

Prior to walking out, Herrera confessed to not knowing much about issues facing the commission but vowed to fight for equal rights for all residents. She then called the forum "biased" and urged the public to look at a contribution from Penny Morrill, who gave Black $100.

With no exchange between the candidates at the forum, Black went on to tell the crowd he would look to encourage sensible growth while continuing to protect the small-town lifestyle that makes Dade City unique.

"I still believe I have a lot to offer the city. I've learned a lot and have a lot of institutional knowledge," Black said.

Black, 54, has a significant funding advantage over Herrera with a war chest as of Tuesday of $8,255 compared to her contributions of $2,862. Black's two biggest contributors are Hodges Funeral Home and JDR Properties of Pasco, owner of the Dade City Business Center, at $1,000 each.

On Herrera's side, reports show nearly two-thirds of her contributions - a total of $1,600 - came from the husband and son of Mayor Camille Hernandez, who won re-election unopposed. If money is any indicator, a victory by Herrera could hand significant influence to Hernandez, who already has two commissioners reliably voting with her.

In recent months, Black has been highly critical of a vote during an October workshop in which the dual role of longtime finance director/city clerk Jim Class was split into two jobs. Black was on the losing end of the 3-2 vote approved by Hernandez and Commissioners Jim Shive and Eunice Penix.

The decision led Class, who has since donated $200 to Black's campaign, to resign.

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De-annexation looms over commission race

Incumbent Town Commissioner Sister Donna DeWitt believes the fate of St. Leo is very much on the line as she vies to keep her commission seat.

A sister at Holy Name Monastery, DeWitt, 70, faces a challenge from Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club resident Ray Davis, 77, a retired businessman who is running in order to bring more representation for his neighborhood.

That could have a major impact as turmoil continues over efforts by some Lake Jovita residents to de-annex from the city. Most of the homes in the gated community are in unincorporated Pasco County, leading St. Leo residents in Lake Jovita to complain about being double charged by the town on taxes.

Last year, the de-annexation effort gathered steam as two Lake Jovita residents, James Wells and Robert Inslee, won seats on the commission.

"I think we should have another voice," Davis said of his bid.

Meanwhile, a bill is working through the Florida Legislature filed on behalf of the town that would allow Lake Jovita to de-annex. But Davis said he feels the need to continue his campaign.

DeWitt said she is upset that the town's money is being wasted by a Lake Jovita resident who is likely to be part of a de-annexation that she too supports. Her biggest fear is for the de-annexation efforts to fail and have Lake Jovita residents move forward with a threatened dissolution petition that could end the city entirely.

"I hope the bill passes. If they don't like it here, fine. We can live without you. But I don't want to see them take away the whole town," DeWitt said. "I personally believe they don't care what happens to the town. I'm running for all of the people in the town."

Times correspondent Lorie Jewell contributed to this report.