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Charlie Justice re-elected to Pinellas County Commission

By Mark Puente
Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, the Democratic incumbent, won re-election on Tuesday. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]

In the lone contested race on the Pinellas County Commission, Democrat Charlie Justice retained his District 3 seat by defeating Republican Mike Mikurak.

Although Mikurak outspent Justice in the race, unofficial results show the incumbent won 52 percent to Mikurak's 48 percent. Justice said he expected turnout to be high amid a divisive national election.

"We hit every door and every voter we could get to," Justice said, adding he took nothing for granted. "I'm incredibly proud we stayed positive the whole way."

Justice's reelection comes in the year he served as the commission's chairman and battled campaign attacks that mirrored the presidential election: Mikurak's ads framed the race as that of a businessman who could do better job than a career politician.

Justice didn't levy any negative attacks and focused his message on his deep roots in Pinellas County and the county commission's accomplishments since 2012.

Those included helping balance the budget and achieving the lowest debt ratio of any large county in Florida. He also cited the county's improved relationship with its 24 municipalities, working to pass ordinances to protect wage-theft victims and providing help to victims of human trafficking.

Justice's victory will help the Democratic Party retain a 4-3 majority on the commission. Democrats Janet Long and Ken Welch ran unopposed. Mikurak, a political newcomer, entered the care at the urging of Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters.

The nearly $260,000 in campaign donations raised between the men made the race the costliest battle for a countywide office in 2016. Of that, Mikurak collected $156,000; Justice drew $103,000. In the end, the race did not turn out to be the nail-biter.

Justice, 48, spent a decade in the Florida Legislature before running for a commission seat in 2012. The year before, conservative Republicans voted to stop putting fluoride in the county's drinking water, inviting national scrutiny and ridicule. Justice was one of two pro-fluoride Democrats elected to the commission in 2012, which later voted to restore fluoridation. It was the first time in 30 years that incumbent Republicans were unseated from the board.

Mikurak, 62, is a retired executive who moved to the area 16 years ago. He has worked as a business consultant and has served as a governor's appointee to the Juvenile Welfare Board and a county appointee to CareerSource Pinellas Executive Committee. After congratulating Justice, Mikurak said he fought an uphill battle.

"The first thing I am going to do is go on vacation, Mikurak said. "We gave it a good fight."

Times correspondents Devin Rodriguez and Nancy McCann contributed to this report. Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente