By Tamas Mondovics

Residents had a chance to meet, question and hear prepared speeches by the more than 60 candidates running for government office in Hillsborough County during this year’s much-anticipated 2014 Meet and Greet Candidate Forum.

The two-part, free community event, which for the past 19 years has been held at the Bell Shoals Baptist Church located at 2102 Bell Shoals Rd. in Brandon, did not fail to draw in the expected crowd of residents as it gave each candidate a chance for a final public push prior to the upcoming primary election scheduled for Tuesday, August 26.

The program began with an informal meet-and-greet session giving all in attendance a chance to get up-close and personal with each candidate, who were all eager to answer questions, talk about their qualifications, as well as what they are ready to accomplish if elected.

This year’s election drew attention to the County Commission District 4 race between Republican candidates Janet Dougherty, Stacy White and Rick Cochran.

White, a current Hillsborough County school board member endorsed by Sheriff David Gee as well as State Attorney Mark Ober, got right to the point when he said, “I am absolutely the right candidate. I am an elected official and I know how to navigate the process to help our residents through the challenges facing our community and our County.”

Also confident of her qualifications, Dougherty, who has been leading the race with the most funds raised, told reporters what she hopes to accomplish during the allotted two minutes on the Bell Shoals Chapel stage.

“I am going to talk about my faith,” she said. “God is in charge and I know that He has been directing me in all of my efforts.”

Dougherty emphasized that her credentials and leadership style, both of which has helped her in her business and family life, gives her the edge she needs over her opponents.

Cochran, a retired Tampa Police officer, said that if elected the one thing that will help him make the difference is his desire to be unconditionally available and in touch with the community.

“I will be able to devote 100 percent of my time to this post as a County Commissioner,” he said. “I want to be sure that residents are always aware of what is happening.”

Widening the circle of candidate-coverage, Mark Nash, who is running fearlessly against his opponent, Al Higginbotham for the office of County Commissioner District 7 Countywide, said during the meet-and-greet session that he did not come to the event with a canned speech, but was going to speak to residents from his heart.

“With important issues such as transportation, traffic woes, jobs, community and smart growth on the table, you need someone who knows how to get things done,” he said. “I am running for a countywide office because this is a great opportunity to utilize what I have to offer. I am prepared for the challenges facing this county.”

When asked why she is best candidate for the job, former State Prosecutor, Division Chief of the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit, Karen Stanley for Circuit Court Judge Group 20 said, “My 24 years of courtroom experience. I have handled thousands of cases. There is no substitute for experience. I’ve learned from every trial I tried.”

Following the traditional meet and greet session, candidates took their place on the Bell Shoals Baptist Church Chapel stage each awaiting his or her turn to make the best to impress the audience within the two minutes given.

While candidates filled the auditorium with phrases such as commitment, integrity, faith, justice, experience, not to mention job creation and saving the county, the rest is now in the hands of voters who are motivated to do their job first during the scheduled Primary Election on Tuesday, August 26, and then the take this year’s election to its completion on Tuesday, November 4.

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