Don Dempsey, a DeLand lawyer, has a tough battle in his bid to unseat County Council incumbent Barb Girtman.
Dempsey’s no stranger to long-shot attempts. In 2020, he ran for state attorney for the 7th Judicial Circuit (covering Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties). He lost by a considerable margin to incumbent R.J. Larizza, although Dempsey did perform well in precincts covering parts of DeLand, his stomping grounds.
Now he’s thrown his hat in the ring for County Council District 1, against incumbent Girtman, known affectionately by her supporters as “The Lady in Blue,” for her propensity to wear the color. District 1 covers a huge swath of West Volusia, from Pierson in the north to sections of DeBary to the south.
Girtman is ubiquitous at community events across West Volusia, and, in her four-year tenure on the County Council, has escaped much of the vitriol and infighting that occasionally emerges between council members.
Dempsey, who keeps a much lower profile, banks on a platform of lowering taxes and responsible growth, a familiar drumbeat locally and nationwide.
“I believe Volusia County can run on 10-percent less money in the budget,” Dempsey told The Beacon. “With the pandemic and inflation, we’ve had to make budget changes in our households, but I didn’t see the government cutting a thing. I didn’t see my taxes go down as much as my income did.”
“‘Slashing taxes’ is not something that can be casually done, I have worked over the last four years to ensure the residents of Volusia and particularly those of District 1 pay a reasonable and fair amount in taxes to ensure our greatest assets are protected and well preserved,” Girtman wrote in response to questions from The Beacon. “Volusia County Council approved going to rollback, as keeping numbers low must be a collaborative effort and strategic process.”
Girtman said it’s not always easy, from the outside, to understand every perspective that informs a County Council decision.
“Anything anti-, without hearing from the people that are impacted, I don’t think it’s fair,” Girtman said at a meet-the-candidates event in July. “We are not a one-size-fits-all community, especially in a district as large as District 1.”
Improving Dempsey’s name recognition outside of DeLand will be a challenge, if his previous bid for state attorney is any indication.
Asked how he will do it, Dempsey responded, “I don’t know. Word-of-mouth — hopefully they’ll research me, and look at the webpage.”
Dempsey said he is also not taking any campaign donations.
“I’m self-funding,” Dempsey said. “I don’t want to be in debt to anybody if I have to vote on an issue where they are a concerned party.”
Dempsey has put $12,000 into his campaign fund, and has spent $6,911. Of that, $1,911 was on the qualifying fee to run. Candidates can avoid the fee, which is a percentage of the salary of the elected position, by filing a petition signed by qualified electors who live in the voting area, as Girtman did.
Campaign records indicate Girtman’s petition of 802 valid signatures was certified by the Elections Office in June — and she paid a $75 filing fee. Her campaign coffers amounted to $49,978.58, as of Oct. 17, representing nearly a year of fundraising, and she has spent $44,757.
Contacted by The Beacon about campaign advertising, Dempsey responded through an assistant that he wasn’t interested.
Dempsey has spent $5,000 on “media,” presumably on his website, www.votedondempsey.com.
Girtman’s campaign records indicate a more traditional campaign, with expenditures on campaign supplies and yard signs, as well as her website, www.barbgirtman.com.
Both Dempsey and Girtman are avoiding negative campaigning.
“I have nothing bad to say about Barb Girtman — I’m running on my own platform,” Dempsey said. “I’m not here to beat up anybody else, I’m running based on my own beliefs.”
And, Girtman talks about communication and collaboration.
“It really matters that we have someone who is forward-thinking, who’s a visionary, who works to build relationships, to connect, communicate and collaborate to get the work done,” she told attendees of the July candidate event. “And that’s me.”
Although the race is nonpartisan, Girtman is a registered Democrat. Dempsey is a registered Republican (his website includes a quote by Ronald Reagan about liberals).