NEW PORT RICHEY — The race for the District 4 seat on the Pasco County Commission is a bit of a rematch, plus one.
Republican Christina ”Fitzy” Fitzpatrick won the seat two years ago, allowing her to complete the last two years of the term of Mike Wells, who became Pasco’s property appraiser. Her win against retired Tampa police officer Gary Bradford and two others came in an open primary, which allowed residents of all parties to vote. Bradford had outspent her by more than 10 to 1 and was backed by key political leaders.
This year’s matchup for a full four-year term representing west-central Pasco pits Fitzpatrick against Bradford again, with a political newcomer Shannon Wittwer also in the mix. Wittwer decided to jump in after an unsuccessful fight against an apartment complex planned near her Tanglewood Drive neighborhood.
The other new feature this year is that the primary is closed, so only Republican voters can participate. That’s because a write-in candidate with little public profile, Cory Patterson, who had donated to Bradford’s campaign, jumped into the race in the final days before qualifying ended.
The winner of the August 23 primary will likely be the overall winner because their name will be on the November general election ballot for all voters next to a blank spot for the write-in candidate.
Bradford, 63, retired from his job in government relations for the Florida Police Benevolent Association since the last election. He spent 25 years with the Tampa Police Department before going to work for the police union for 15 years. He is running a campaign based on what he calls a commitment to conservative values, his strong support for public safety and his plan to address Pasco’s transportation and flooding challenges.
The Ohio native has been involved in a variety of community organizations, including the Rotary Club of Land O’ Lakes, the board of directors of Sunrise of Pasco County Domestic and Sexual Violence Center, Amvet Post 98 and Sons of Amvet, the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, the Libertad, Club Hispano Republicans de Pasco and the Lions Club.
Bradford cites his life experiences as a police officer and husband as reasons why he is the best candidate for the job. He said they have given him the confidence and abiliy to make accountability decisions and accept whatever consequences those decisions might bring.
Fitzpatrick, 38, was born in New York but has spent more than 30 years in Pasco. She said her passion has been helping Pasco’s most vulnerable children, founding Guardian Angels, Inc. and Miracles Schools for children with special needs, where she serves as chief administrator.
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She has been involved in numerous causes and organizations, including the Guardian Ad Litem program, the Rotary Club at Trinity, the Business and Professional Women of Calusa, the Trinity Positive Business Network, a Foster/Adoptive Parent Associate, the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and Women Helping Women.
Fitzpatrick said she has been focused on listening to community concerns. She said providing resources needed by the county’s public safety entities including more deputies, fire stations and ambulances and improving the county’s transportation system to reduce gridlock are top priorities. She also said that the county needs to continue its efforts to bring more high-paying jobs while also working on challenging problems such as the need for more affordable housing.
In a recent political forum, Wittwer, 47, said she picked Pasco as her home seven years ago due to its rural nature and quality of life, only to be jarred by the community’s booming growth pattern, pointing to the apartment project planned nearby. She said the foray into county politics convinced her the Pasco commission needs a new perspective.
Wittwer, owner of Bay Area Disaster Team Corp., a construction and mold remediation company, said more Pasco residents are feeling they have no say in the fast pace of development.
“A majority of Pasco citizens do not like the fundamental change they are seeing before their very eyes,” she said. ”The people have had enough, and want to truly be represented, not ruled.”
Wittwer said citizens should have a more transparent accounting of how the county spends its money and more detailed information about how the Penny for Pasco sales tax is spent before voting on its extension in November. She said she is the best choice for the seat because she is not connected to the current government through business or personal ties.