Ex-Citrus County Commissioner Dennis Damato dies after cancer battle
Former Citrus County Commissioners Dennis Damato, left, and Josh Wooten.

damato wooten
'He was one of the best Commissioners we’ve ever had.'

Former Citrus County Commissioner Dennis Damato, who spearheaded numerous projects for the county and city of Crystal River over a 12-year public career, died this past Monday.

Danielle Damato Doty announced her father’s April 11 death early in an early Thursday morning Facebook post.

“After a courageous battle with cancer that had returned a few months ago, I am devastated to share that my beloved father, Dennis Damato, has passed away at age 69,” it reads. “My mother, Patricia, and I are so grateful for all of the prayers and support that we have received.”

Word of Damato’s death spread quickly in the Citrus County political and business community, with many recalling Damato as a visionary who helped spur some of the county’s biggest government projects of the last 20 years.

“He was a big thinker, not afraid to tackle big issues and lead the charge on them,” said Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek, who served with Damato on the County Commission. “He was out for the community. He truly loved it and he cared about it. He was one of the best Commissioners we’ve ever had. He thought decades ahead.”

Retired Citrus County Chronicle Publisher Gerry Mulligan said Damato sought workable solutions and would think each one through.

“Dennis was the greatest planner,” Mulligan said. “When he got a vision, he would come to my office, and bring a detailed written report on whatever his proposal was. He was the most detailed guy we’ve ever had serving in that office.”

A Jersey native, Damato moved to Crystal River 50 years ago. He owned a construction company that bears his name, and helped direct the county’s residential and commercial growth toward its midsection, in the area known as the Central Ridge.

In 2004, Damato was elected to the Citrus County Commission, defeating the incumbent in the Republican Primary. He was re-elected twice and chose in 2016 to step down after his third term.

While in office, he encouraged the county to plan for road expansions, new fire stations and government services. Damato was the driving force behind the county’s controversial decision to buy a building in Meadowcrest that would become the West Citrus Center to house satellite government offices.

He supported the creation of Port Citrus on the Cross Florida Barge Canal, but also urged expansion of sewer projects and was an advocate of a countywide bike path. He opposed cuts in impact fees and voted against his final budget because it dropped the tax rate rather than bringing in more money for projects.

Damato missed two months of meetings in 2011 after having surgery on his scalp to remove skin cancer. Upon his return, Commissioners sported do-rags in a show of solidarity.

Josh Wooten, president and CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, and a former Commissioner prior to Damato’s time, said Damato never lost his spirit during that time.

“He fought like an S.O.B.,” Wooten said. “Mortals would have given up.”

Even after leaving office in 2016, Damato stayed involved.

“He was always around,” Rep. Ralph Massullo said. “He always had a smile on his face, regardless of what he was going through with his health. He had a servant’s heart.”

Mike Wright

Mike Wright is a former reporter with the Citrus County Chronicle, where he had covered county government and politics since 1987. Mike's skills as an investigative reporter earned him first-place awards in investigative writing. Mike also helped the Chronicle win the Frances Devore Award for Public Service in 2002.


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