ZEPHYRHILLS — The new mayor of Zephyrhills will be Gene Whitfield, the owner of a local funeral home, who found himself unopposed for the position after filing ended last week.
Whitfield, 66, decided to run for mayor when current mayor Danny Burgess decided to run for House Speaker Will Weatherford’s seat in the House of Representatives. Weatherford must step down because of term limits.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a young adult,” Whitfield said. “I was interested in politics but never could do it because of education, military and raising a family and all those things. It just finally got to the time I could do it — the time was right.”
The mayor position is not a voting member of the city council but has veto authority. Although some residents view the mayor as a figurehead position without real power, Whitfield disagrees.
“If you ask Mayor McDuffie [Cliff McDuffie, a former mayor for 10 years] or Danny or any of them, they’re going to tell you it’s not empty. There’s plenty to do for the city and on behalf of the city. I see that as a challenge.”
“I think every mayor is different,” Whitfield added. “We’re all different people; we have different skills and things that we bring to the table and different interests where we might want to put our focus. It’s not a bad thing.”
Whitfield said he wants to see a continuation of several ongoing issues, such as the potential use of the Hercules Park property, the (Re) Imagine (U.S.) 301 project and bringing the airport to its full potential. He is interested in bringing jobs to Zephyrhills.
He also plans to be involved in the Mayor’s Youth Council that was recently re-established by Burgess.
“I know a lot of time people don’t think that’s an important thing but that’s the future, and it’s an investment of time that’s well worth it,” he said.
Whitfield owns the Whitfield Funeral Home on the corner of U.S. 301 and South Avenue. He and Ernestine, his wife of 45 years, have lived in Zephyrhills for about 36 years, but they are both lifelong natives of East Pasco County — both having been raised in Dade City.
The Whitfields have two children, Tim, who is a fishing boat captain, and a daughter, Amy, who is finishing a degree to be funeral director and works in the family business.
Whitfield said he is adopting a wait-and-see policy on his future as mayor. If things go well and the people want him, he’ll continue.
“It depends on so many factors.” he said. “If it’s going well and I feel like we’re helping and not hindering, I’ll keep trying.”
Burgess is optimistic about handing over the mayor position. “Gene Whitfield is a staple in our community,” he said, “and he will do an incredible job as our next mayor. He is a dear friend, and it is my honor to pass the torch to Mr. Whitfield.”
As he gets ready to take office he emphasizes that he will be different from former mayors, saying with a smile, “I won’t be Mayor McDuffie, and I won’t be good-looking like Danny, but I feel that I have things to offer.”