DADE CITY — You can tell it’s election season in Dade City just by counting the campaign signs blanketing neighborhood yards.
But the biennial right of spring in the county seat is not as familiar this time around. There are three contested City Commission seats on the April 14 ballot, but only one incumbent seeking re-election, guaranteeing at least two new faces on the post-election commission.
Two other east Pasco cities also are holding elections April 14, with Zephyrhills having a contested race for the largely ceremonial role of mayor and San Antonio having five people run for three seats on its commission.
In Dade City, controlling growth, sprucing up the city’s appearances and bolstering downtown are common platform planks among the candidates.
But the race for one seat, Group 3, held by two-term incumbent Jim Shive is featuring sharp elbows figuratively and rude shouldering literally, according to police incident reports filed by challenger Matthew Shane Wilson.
Wilson told police he had two confrontations with Shive while campaigning door-to-door on March 14. In the first incident, Wilson said Shive asked to have a conversation with him, but became irate, pointed his finger at him and warned, “You better get out of here or else.’’
A few hours later, Wilson reported that he was campaigning outside a woman’s home on 13th Street when Shive pulled up, exited his vehicle and hit Wilson’s shoulder with his shoulder as he went past him. Wilson said he didn’t want to prosecute Shive, but wanted the confrontation documented.
Shive, in an email to the Tampa Bay Times, called the allegations “absolutely false’’ and accused Wilson of wasting officers’ time.
Shive, a retired government employee who first won election in 2012, was the only candidate to miss a March 26 debate sponsored by the Rotary Club of Dade City and held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Shive didn’t respond to six emails from the Rotary, but told the Times a debate with his opponent didn’t fit into his grassroots strategy of talking to constituents.
“We don’t need commissioners that are absent and missing on important topics and issues,’’ Wilson countered during the debate.
Offering a strategy contrary to Shive’s was Group 5 candidate Normita Woodard. She participated in the debate after arriving late because she had to make funeral arrangements for her sister who died unexpectedly. Being at the debate, Woodard said, demonstrated “the dedication I do have, the commitment I do have, to Dade City.’’
Keep up with all things Pasco County
Subscribe to our free Pasco Times newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Shive points to the city’s progress over the past eight years as the reason to re-elect him. Among other things, he cites the downtown stormwater project, updating the city’s drainage master plan, building a new city hall/police department and completing $2 million of park improvements, including the Hardy Trail Extension. Around the holidays, he is a visible hands-on volunteer installing Christmas decorations downtown.
Shive’s campaign has financial support from building contractor Gordon R. Larkin, JDR Properties of Pasco — owners of the Dade City Business Center — and from two companies owned by Realtor/developer Larry Guilford, who is redeveloping a former auto sales business into a downtown food and entertainment hall called The Block.
Wilson, a data entry clerk for UPS, was born in Dade City and is now raising his family here. He wants to aid downtown merchants and help fill empty storefronts. He also said residents have told him during this campaign that growth is their number one concern.
“It’s up to us to make sure while we grow we don’t lose who we are in the process,’’ he said.
Wilson also wondered about a disconnect between City Hall and city residents.
“Many times, the concerns of citizens of Dade City are going unheard,’’ he said.
Among his campaign contributors is Ronnie Deese, the father of Dade City Commissioner Nicole Deese Newlon, who is not seeking re-election.
Ann Cosentino and Knute J. Nathe are vying for Newlon’s seat.
Cosentino said she was introduced to Dade City about 20 years ago when her parents retired here while she was a student at Penn State University. She and her husband eventually picked the city as their home and seven years ago purchased and restored a historic house on Fifth Street. She owns a communications and business-branding consulting firm.
Cosentino touts a need for responsible growth. She wants to clean up blighted areas and to improve communication between the city and its residents.
Attorney Nathe’s relatives have been around as long as Pasco County. The Nathes are one of the county’s founding families. Nathe, graduated from Pasco High, then-Pasco-Hernando Community College, the University of Florida and its law school. He serves on the city’s Planning Board along with James Cosentino, the husband of his campaign opponent.
Nathe said the city faces three major issues, including helping its residents and business owners recover from the long-term economic impacts of the coronavirus. He favors controlling growth by annexing ripe-for-development agriculture land so the city can have a say in how the property develops and can balance residential and commercial uses. And like Cosentino, he said the city must improve its communication to residents and business owners.
Christopher King and Woodard are running for the seat being vacated by Eunice Penix, who did not seek reelection after nearly 27 years in office.
King said he was raised in Savannah, Ga., and moved to Dade City in 2014. He is the founder of the Gentlemen’s Course Inc., a non-profit that mentors youths with a focus on etiquette, human rights and human trafficking awareness. Dade City lacks support and activities for youths, he said, and the city also has to make a stronger effort to advise the community of government.
“Our job market needs to increase here in Dade City,’’ he said, so millennials don’t have to commute to higher-wage jobs outside the area.
Woodard, a non-instructional employee at Lacoochee Elementary School, calls herself a homegrown product who graduated from Pasco High School.
“I love Dade City. I want to see us thrive and grow,’’ she said.
Like each of the candidates, she advocated for a strong downtown.
“We must appreciate the people who choose to do business here because they could decide to take their business somewhere else,’’ she said.
King’s contribution list includes a donation from Penix, while Woodard has the support of retired educator Lorenzo Coffie.
Each of the seats in the nonpartisan election carries a four-year term. By midday March 30, 300 people had voted by mail.
In Zephyrhills, incumbent Mayor Gene Whitfield is being challenged by Justin Docherty.
The mayor does not run council meetings, cannot make motions and cannot vote on matters before the council. The council president signs official city documents and chairs council meetings. The mayor serves as a goodwill ambassador, but has the rarely used authority to veto city ordinances. Whitfield was first elected in 2014 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Danny Burgess, who ran for higher office.
More than 940 people had voted in the mayoral contest by March 30.
In San Antonio, a crowded field is seeking three commission seats. There are no head-to-head match-ups, with the top three vote-getters winning commission seats. Running are incumbents Elayne Bassinger and Sarah Schrader, along with Joseph Corture, John Vogel II and Dacia Wadsworth Mitchell.
In the town of 1,145 residents, 46 people had voted by March 30.
In all three cities, April 4 is the final day voters can request a ballot be mailed to them. Voters still can make in-person requests the following week. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on April 14, but Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley urged the public to vote early via mail ballot.