East Naples candidate won district race without raising money or campaigning

David Albers/Staff
- Supporters of recently laid off East Naples firefighters fill a board meeting of the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District  on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, in East Naples. The group attended the meeting to show their support for nine recently laid-off firefighters and a union plan to rehire them.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - Supporters of recently laid off East Naples firefighters fill a board meeting of the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, in East Naples. The group attended the meeting to show their support for nine recently laid-off firefighters and a union plan to rehire them.

Brian Cross

Brian Cross

— Brian Cross didn't raise one dime, mail one campaign flier or plant one yard sign in his bid to become an East Naples fire commissioner, but stealth worked.

Cross, 29, was one of the challengers who unseated four East Naples Fire and Rescue District incumbents up for re-election Tuesday on a ballot that drew an unusually large number of fire district candidates with talk of district consolidation.

In all, 18 candidates sought seven fire district seats in East Naples, Golden Gate and North Naples; only two incumbents survived.

"Obviously you don't do something unless you think you're going to win," Cross said.

The Naples native, managing litigation attorney at Goede & Adamczyk, credits his hometown roots, his network of community contacts — and maybe a little alphabetical order — for his victory.

For starters, Cross' mother, Nancy, a nurse, is a member of the Rossi family, a well-known Naples clan. She had 10 brothers and sisters.

"Just about anyone who grew up in Naples went to school with one Rossi or another," Cross said.

Cross' father, Oliver, cut hair at Oliver's Barber Shop on Fifth Avenue South for 37 years before retiring in 2009. Cross' brother, Matt, now runs the landmark shop. Two of Cross' uncles are retired Collier County Sheriff's Office lieutenants.

Cross beat out former Collier County community development administrator Joe Schmitt by 270 votes, garnering 8,385 votes, or 40 percent of the vote, compared to Schmitt's 8,115 votes, or 39 percent. Incumbent George Danz came in third, with 4,508 votes, or 21 percent of the vote.

Cross was the only candidate in the four East Naples races to win without an endorsement from the International Association of Firefighters union.

Other victorious challengers, transportation worker Charlie Cottiers, human resources consultant Steve Hemping and former Collier Emergency Services Chief Jeff Page had the backing of the union.

The winners in East Naples had different views about what message voters were sending with the incumbent sweep.

Cross, a supporter of consolidation, said voters want the fire district to move more quickly on the hot-button issue to streamline the county's independent fire districts by consolidating them.

"I see it as a joke," Cross said of the current system. "It's an antiquated, outdated and broken system."

Consolidation backers, including Cross, acknowledge that tearing down the old system and building a new one faces challenges in overcoming district power structures and issues of evening out compensation and pension plans.

Cross was the only candidate in the four East Naples races to win without an endorsement from the International Association of Firefighters union.

After years of talk about consolidation, a nonbinding 2010 straw vote showed 72 percent of Collier voters said they favored merging the county's seven fire districts if it saves money and is more efficient.

"They just want to see this thing move toward some kind of culmination," said Hemping, 69.

Cottiers, 55, also a consolidation supporter, said he spent every hour of every day of early voting at the Supervisor of Elections Office talking to voters.

He said he doesn't think enough voters understood the consolidation issue to make it the deciding factor in how they voted. Cottiers cited a general anti-incumbent feeling he got from voters upset with the district's decision to lay off nine firefighters last year.

"'Out with the old, in with the new,' was the battle cry down there," Cottiers said.

Page, 57, said he was pleasantly surprised to see voters reject the four incumbents and had been concerned that voters wouldn't make enough of a change to tip the balance on the five-member commission toward consolidation.

"I don't think it was any one thing except consolidation," he said.

Page said he, Cottiers and Hemping spent time talking to voters at the early voting site at the Supervisor of Elections Office in East Naples. Cross said he would talk to voters about why he was running, if they caught wind of his quiet campaign.

Raising and spending money, pumping out campaign brochures and splashing your name across the county on a sign "demeans the process a little bit," Cross said.

So, like the path to consolidation, Cross has already blazed a campaign trail through some unfamiliar territory.

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