By Dan Harkins
DELTONA - When former Deltona Mayor Dennis Mulder unexpectedly dropped out of the House District 27 race on Aug. 30, citing his ill son as the reason, county Democrats scrambled to find his replacement.
They needed someone with the kind of name recognition and fund-raising acumen that would allow him to simply overlook the fact just 60 days remain until the general election.
So, last Thursday, they picked their leader to be that candidate. Phil Giorno, chairman of the Volusia County Democratic Executive Committee since 1999 and a county councilman from 1991 to 1996, said his Republican opponent, ex-Deltona City Commissioner David Santiago, already has about $50,000 raised, compared to his zero.
He said he wasn't worried, though.
"This is the exact district I won on county council," said the 64-year-old late last week as he drove back from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
"I'm really excited about it. David is way ahead of me on the money, but you know what? Something like 90 percent of his money is coming from outside the district. I can't compete in money, but I can compete by having people all over this area who will work for me."
After 63 of 89 total precinct committee people voted, Mr. Giorno received 35 votes. With 26 votes was DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia and a third nominee, failed congressional candidate Nicholas Ruiz, got two votes.
Dr. Carl Thornblad, treasurer for the county Democrats, said Mr. Giorno's ties throughout the county give him the network needed to make an impact.
"I have no doubt he will have the best chance," Mr. Thornblad said. "He's been in the county many years, has been chairman of the party for 14, and he's worked hard to get a lot of Democrats elected."
Deltona, the county's largest city with about 85,000 residents, is the anchor for the 27th House District, although it stretches from DeBary to the Atlantic Ocean in New Smyrna Beach. Mr. Giorno said not only has he lived in Deltona since 1972, but he's also served at-large and chairman terms on the Volusia County Council - something he believes would predispose him more than Mr. Santiago to consider all his constituents.
"The person (who wins this race) almost has to be from Deltona," he said, "but who will represent the other areas? I've already proven that I can do that."
After serving a stint in the U.S. Navy, Mr. Giorno worked for the National Security Agency and Federal Reserve Board before landing a job with Volusia County as a systems analyst.
"I was the first county councilman ever to be elected as an actual county employee," he said.
Mr. Giorno said he's working now on his platform, at the center of which is an overall malaise about how an inordinately high number of student pedestrian accidents in his district coincides with state school funding cuts that have led to less crossing guards and other cuts that have kept new sidewalks from being built around area schools
"When I go to Tallahassee," he said, "I'm not going to get off of it. We can't let any more of our kids get hurt."
Mr. Santiago said his strategy won't change now that Mr. Giorno is his new opponent.
"This hasn't changed anything we're doing in our campaign, from the perspective of strategy," he said. "We won't be outworked these next 60 days.