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Van Gorden wins Zephyrhills mayoral race

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:59 AM

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ZEPHYRHILLS -

High School Principal Steve Van Gorden waltzed into the Zephyrhills mayor's office with 70 percent of the vote Tuesday.

Van Gorden said he was humbled by the show of support. "The first thing I need to do when I take office is to listen to the voters," he said.

Longtime Zephyrhills Mayor Cliff McDuffie decided not to seek re-election this year, leaving political veteran Van Gorden to run against local businessman Michael Payne.

Payne, who runs a pest control company, broke the cardinal rule of campaigning — running on a platform that the city should raise taxes to improve city services. Never mind that McDuffie often voiced the same opinion.

The mayor's office in Zephyrhills is largely ceremonial — the mayor doesn't run city council meetings and doesn't vote on policies — which may explain low voter turnout. Just 7 percent of Zephyrhills voters cast ballots in the race, as council members Jodi Wilkeson and Tim Burgess were elected without opposition.

That wasn't the case in Dade City and San Antonio, two East Pasco towns where controversies drove up voter turnout.

In tiny San Antonio, more than 30 percent of the town's 784 voters went to the polls to choose three city commissioners from a slate of five candidates. Longtime Mayor Roy Pierce easily won re-election with more than 25 percent of the vote. First-time candidate Elayne Bassinger, who criticized the commissions' recent approval of two competing dollar stores, placed second with 23 percent.

With only one seat left, incumbents Richard Gates and Heiskell Christmas were separated by a single vote. But there also were 143 "undervotes" in the five-way race, so the results could change.

Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said state law mandates a machine recount, and then a manual recount, which are scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday. The canvassing board won't certify the election results until Friday.

In Dade City, former city employee Jim Shive defeated Jeanie Germain in his second bid for the commission seat. Shive, 54, won 58 percent. A fixture at commission meetings, Shive said he'll have to get used to sitting "behind the dais."

"This will be a learning curve for me," he said. "It's like starting a new job, and I take it very seriously."

More than 15 percent of Dade City voters went to the polls. Longtime Commissioner Bill Dennis, 80, beat back a challenge from Clyde E. Carter. Dennis, who has served off and on the commission since the early 1980s, had 57 percent of the vote.


lkinsler@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1852

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