Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Education

Pinellas School Board races headed for runoffs

ST. PETERSBURG — Rene Flowers felt so strongly about her brand that she made it her campaign slogan: "You know Rene Flowers."

Election returns Tuesday night indicate she may have been right.

The former St. Petersburg City Council member took nearly 48 percent of the vote in a five-way battle for the vacant Pinellas County School Board District 7 — a commanding lead, but not enough to spare her from a Nov. 6 runoff with Pinellas County newcomer and current School Board member Glenton Gilzean Jr.

Gilzean, whom Gov. Rick Scott appointed in January to fill the seat following former board member Lew Williams' death, came in second with almost 16 percent.

The second-place showing means Gilzean, 30, who blasted onto the local Pinellas scene as a virtual unknown after moving from Tampa in November, has three more months to get his message to voters — something he said Tuesday he's eager to do.

"I feel great," he said. "People, when they hear my message, they say he really does bring a lot to the table."

Flowers, 47, said she was hoping to secure the south Pinellas School Board seat in the primary, but is ready to continue working. "We just have a larger base to reach, which is going to entail trying to raise much more money," she said.

Gilzean was trailed by college student Corey Givens Jr., 20, with 14 percent, middle school teachers' aide Cassandra Jackson, 52, with nearly 12 percent, and two-time District 7 candidate attorney Keisha Bell, with 10 percent.

Meanwhile, in the four-person District 1 At-Large School Board race, incumbent Janet Clark, 58, kept a grip on her chances of continuing into her third term in November.

Clark pulled in nearly 35 percent of the vote with retired businessman Elliot Stern following with almost 26 percent. That means the two will duke it out in the general election.

"I'm pretty honored to make the runoff," Stern said.

The former Pinellas Education Foundation leader spent 13 times as much as Clark campaigning for the seat —$58,119 compared with Clark's $4,353.

But no one spent more than retired professor Jim Jackson, who came in last with 18 percent despite spending $64,077 in his second bid for a seat that comes with a $40,457 annual salary.

Clark said she was pleased with the results, but hesitant to explain them.

"I don't know how to call it, I truly don't," she said. "I don't know if it's luck or the job I've done. I hope it's the job I've done."

Clark first won a spot on the School Board in 2004 after upsetting a 14-year incumbent with more money and endorsements. That first election was called a fluke, but she won re-election in 2008 — again without raising much money.

This time, she took the same low-key approach to campaigning.

Jackson, 67, and Stern, 73, were Clark's most aggressive opponents, contributing a substantial amount of their own money to the race.

Both men paid for a blitz of campaign signs, mailers and television ads. Jackson said before the primary that he thought Clark would be in the top spot, leaving him fighting Stern and preschool owner Shelly Ladd-Gilbert for second place.

Jackson focused most of his last-minute efforts against Stern, who ran with strong support from the business-led Pinellas Education Foundation. In the final days before the primary, he ran robo-calls, capitalizing on two elections complaints against Stern. The merits of the complaints hadn't been determined before the election.

Ladd-Gilbert, 42, a former teacher, took more of a grass roots approach, introducing herself at neighborhood events and chamber meetings. Her platform largely consisted of expanding fundamental schools and improving safety in school. She received about 21 percent of the vote.

Stern said he thought some of the negative robo-calls put out by Jackson in the days leading up to the primary actually hurt Jackson's campaign. Jackson couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. But he said last week that he didn't think there was anything more he could do.

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