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Everyone positive as races head to runoffs

No clear favorites emerged from three tight School Board races Tuesday in Pinellas, setting up a trio of runoff elections in November.

Incumbent Janet Clark led the field in the District 1 at-large race, but Jennifer Crockett, making her second bid for a School Board seat, trailed closely.

Newcomer Nina Hayden, a public defender, was the lead vote getter in the District 2 at-large race. But with less than 30 percent of the vote, she faced a runoff election against high school teacher Sean O'Flannery or retired businessman Ron Walker, who were in a tight race for second place. O'Flannery was slightly ahead late Tuesday, but the difference between the two candidates stood at less than 1 percent of the vote with provisional votes and some absentee ballots yet to be counted.

In the North County District 4 race, Realtor Robin Wikle finished just ahead of Palm Harbor chiropractor Ken Peluso, setting up a runoff among two well-financed candidates. Each raised more than $35,000 — far more than any candidate in the two countywide races.

A runoff occurs among the top two finishers in a race when no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote.

In a field with 13 candidates in three races, the runoffs were to be expected, said Beth Rawlins, a political consultant familiar with School Board issues. "It's very difficult to get 50 (percent) plus one with four candidates in a race, even with an incumbent in the race," she said.

Clark said she was pleased with the results, but was prepared if the election didn't go her way. "It is what it is," she said. "If I didn't get in the top two, I'd go back to teaching. I'll be in education either way. I don't think any of the other candidates can say that."

Crockett said her message to voters in the general election campaign would focus on leadership, cooperation among board members and getting someone with different experience on the board.

"Now I can focus on what I need to do," she said. "My calendar's already filling up."

Hayden said she thought voters liked that she works daily with juveniles and would use that experience on the board.

"This was my first time running for a political office," she said. "I'm definitely ready for the second half. … I'll be getting out there and talking to more people."

Like Crockett, O'Flannery is making his second bid for a School Board seat after losing in a runoff in 2006.

"I think I worked harder than the last time," he said. "I campaigned smarter. I researched the job more."

Walker could not be reached for comment.

Wikle said Tuesday night she was ecstatic about the results. "I'm looking forward to the general election with excitement and a renewed sense of energy," she said.

She said her message to voters would continue to focus on increasing parental involvement in schools, raising achievement, supporting career education and wanting to be a dependable board member.

Peluso said he, too, would stick to his primary election theme.

"It just comes down to who has the most experience on the issues and who has more experience in general," he said. "I feel my experience makes me the most qualified."

Everyone positive as races head to runoffs 08/27/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 31, 2008 3:31pm]
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