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Bill Rufty: New HD 41 legislator will have a heavy task with Nora Mayo Hall

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ruftyFlorida House District 41 hopefuls at the Winter Haven Chamber’s Whistle Stop event Thursday night might have noticed a few once-over stares from more than just voters.

That is, if those seeking to replace term-limited Rep. John Wood looked up from handshaking and glad-handling.

Those offhand stares came from Winter Haven City Commissioners and Polk County officials attending the event, which was held in a church auditorium after decades of being hosted in the state-owned Nora Mayo Hall.

The winner in the East Polk County district, which includes Winter Haven, probably won’t get the “freshman pass” given to most new legislators.

Instead, he or she will have a heavy task – using all of their political capital to get Nora Mayo Hall transferred to the city.

Asked if the candidates — two in the Republican primary and the Democrat waiting on the winner – had been told what the city expects of them, Mayor Brad Dantzler said, “Not yet, but there will be a time.’’

Probably after the Republicans choose their candidate, he added.

The former state Agriculture Department building has been vacant for about three years. When the state twice put it up for bid the only bidder was the city of Winter Haven, which offered $1 million.

The state insists on $3.3 million.

A frustrated Dantzler said the building, with a large auditorium on the bottom floor and offices on top, will not work for businesses. It is only suitable for government.

“And we have been told privately, though not officially verified, that the state spends upward of $250,000 a year in maintenance,” Dantzler said. “Why are they hanging on to it?”

“After a while, the mouse doesn’t want the cheese,” he continued, “he just wants his butt out of the trap.”

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

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