WESLEY CHAPEL — For the first time in two decades, Pat Mulieri’s name will not be on the ballot for District 2 commissioner. Her retirement has created a scenario similar to the one in 2012, when Anne Hildebrand retired.
In that election, Kathryn Starkey emerged from a field of seven Republicans and one Democrat to win the commission seat. Now three Republican hopefuls and one Democrat are seeking the District 2 seat, which covers much of central Pasco, including Wesley Chapel and Land O’ Lakes.
Republicans Ken Littlefield, Mike Moore and Bob Robertson face off in the Aug. 26 primary. The winner will compete against Democrat Erika Remsberg in November.
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Of all the candidates, Moore, 43, has generated the most buzz. Chairman of the Wesley Chapel Republican Club, Moore has picked up a slew of endorsements from the likes of House Speaker Will Weatherford, future speaker Richard Corcoran, Sheriff Chris Nocco, and state senators John Legg and Wilton Simpson. Commission Chairman Jack Mariano also has endorsed Moore, who has raised nearly $90,000.
Moore and his wife founded a home healthcare business and in 2011 sold it to a private equity firm. In 2012 he started a business sales, mergers and acquisitions company. “I’ve always had an interest in politics and followed it closely, but I had no aspirations to run for office,” Moore said. “That came later in life. I just have this drive and commitment to help others. I’ve helped others get elected, and I just thought it was my time to do it.”
He serves on the Elder Affairs Advisory Council and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. Moore also is active in the Wesley Chapel Noon Rotary Club and Wesley Chapel Athletics Association. “I just have a passion for this county, and you need someone to step up and be willing to put service above self,” he said.
One of his top goals is to lure higher-paying jobs to Pasco County. “Not just jobs — careers,” he said. “I’m comfortable when it comes to speaking with CEOs. I want to be the one to go out and recruit those companies to Pasco County.”
He said the county’s tourism staff hasn’t capitalized enough on Pasco’s waterfront. “I want us to push ecotourism hard,” he said. “We should be promoting fishing, boat rentals, canoeing, kayaking.”
Moore said he also wants to make it easier to do business in Pasco. “We’re known as one of the most difficult places to do business in the state of Florida,” he said.
He also wants to see more spending on code enforcement.
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Robertson, 57, of Zephyrhills, is a self-employed certified financial planner. He chaired the Lake Bernadette Community Development District for four years and this year graduated from the county’s inaugural Citizen Academy, which delves into all aspects of county government.
This is Robertson’s first run for public office, but he has impressed Mulieri, winning her endorsement. He is the only Republican in the race who gathered enough petition signatures to get on the ballot without having to pay a $4,871 qualifying fee.
“Is it a boost? Absolutely,” he said. “This is going to be a low turnout election because there’s nothing on the ballot. People know Pat Mulieri — she’s served for 20 years and she’s the senior member on the board. So it means a lot.”
Robertson is a deacon at Chancey Road Christian Church and serves on the board of the Samaritan Project, a nonprofit that assists the homeless and needy. He also serves as a Big Brother. “I am immersed in this county,” he said.
He wants to bring a financial planner’s eye to the board of commissioners. “I’m a needs vs. wants guy,” he said. “I look at the capital improvement plan and we’ve got a project in there for $16.5 million to build a bike trail from Trilby to Trinity. OK, I ride my bike. But again, we’ve got 380 miles of dirt roads. Is that bike trail a priority over basic infrastructure?”
Robertson said the county’s paving assessment program needs to be revamped. He also would like to see other departments follow the example of Elderly Nutrition and utilize volunteers.
The proposed county budget includes funding to hire two employees for economic development planning. “I’m not so sure creating an economic development department is the direction I’d go,” Robertson said. He would rather increase county funding to the Pasco Economic Development Council, which isn’t subject to the same public records requirements as county government. “I think you can have accountability without transparency,” he said.
He said the recent announcement by T. Rowe Price that it wants to sell its Pasco County land that once was slated for a regional campus isn’t a reflection on Pasco or the EDC. “I don’t have a loss in confidence in them because of that,” he said. “What we need to learn from that situation is that businesses are going to do at their core what fundamentally benefits their business and their shareholders.”
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Littlefield brings the most name recognition to the race. Four years ago, Littlefield, 70, of Wesley Chapel, spent $21,000 of his own money and came within 1,000 votes of unseating Mulieri. Littlefield served six years in the Florida House, but opted not to run for re-election in 2006 after then Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to a $132,500-a-year job on the Public Service Commission. But before he could be confirmed to the post, Gov. Charlie Crist replaced Littlefield with someone he said would be consumer-friendly.
Littlefield later ran the Statewide Advocacy Council, a group that worked out of the governor’s office investigating reported abuses in state agencies and programs dealing with health care and social services.
He has accused the current commission of being too parochial, sometimes and relying on county staff to set policy, rather than the opposite.
Littlefield works at Dade City-based Hodges Family Funeral Home. He said he decided to run for the seat again because he enjoys making policy. He believes his experience as a legislator and working for the state make him “uniquely qualified” to be a county commissioner.
“I got into this race late this time after looking at the other candidates,” he said. “I looked at their experience and I saw very little.”
Though he ran against Mulieri four years ago, Littlefield never has publicly challenged her on any positions. He still won’t say if he disagrees with any of her previous votes, but he bristled at her decision to endorse Robertson as her successor.
“What that tells me is she sees in him the status quo,” Littlefield said. “She sees a mirror image of herself, and if people were happy with that I wouldn’t have gotten 49 percent of the vote last time.”
Remsberg, 43, is the lone Democrat in the race. A native of New York, she moved to Land O’ Lakes with her family 13 years ago. Remsberg is a licensed clinical social worker from Pasco County Schools who works as a liaison for homeless students.
“Being a Democrat, you’re an underdog,” Remsberg said. “I’m a liberal Democrat — that’s who I am. It’s a lens I see through, but I tend to be very moderate when it comes to spending. It means I’m more direct and discerning in offering help to someone who can help themselves.”
Her top priority is funding for public safety. “Our firefighters and sheriff’s office need to be at adequate levels — not just salaries but also staffing levels,” she said. “We need four people on a truck, not two.”
Remsberg said she disagrees with the county’s policy of waiving mobility fees for businesses while assessing homeowners to pay for road maintenance. “I am not a fan of promoting that Pasco has lower taxes when you’re not upfront about the other fees and assessments,” she said. “To me, that’s not transparent. Personally, I’d rather pay a little more upfront than to get hit all at once with a big assessment.”
She wants to bring “living wage jobs” to Pasco — that means relying less on retail and tourism. “We need to recognize that most people who work in the hospitality industry earn minimum wage,” she said.
Remsberg said if Pasco wants to be a “premier county,” it needs to take care of its most vulnerable citizens. “We have 200 homebound seniors on a waiting list to get one meal a day delivered to them,” she said. “Is that premier?”
Like Robertson, Remsberg earned her spot on the ballot by gathering signatures. “I think it’s important to have objective people on the commission,” she said. “That’s why I admired Pat. She was very direct and she never seemed to have an agenda or a particular project. It’s important to have a representative on the commission who speaks for the people.”