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Flowers celebrates, Rice won't concede in Pinellas commission race

Rene Flowers, right, shares a laugh with former St. Petersburg City Council member Kathleen Ford on Tuesday while watching election results for the Pinellas County Commission District 3 Democratic primary at the Gulfport Community Center. 

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Rene Flowers, right, shares a laugh with former St. Petersburg City Council member Kathleen Ford on Tuesday while watching election results for the Pinellas County Commission District 3 Democratic primary at the Gulfport Community Center. 

Because of a wire-thin margin of defeat, Pinellas County Commission District 3 Democratic primary contender Darden Rice declined to concede to opponent Rene Flowers on Tuesday night, hoping for a recount.

In the District 1 Republican primary, political consultant Neil Brickfield bested School Board member Jane Gallucci, taking 52 percent of the vote.

In by far the night's most dramatic local contest, Flowers, a former St. Petersburg City Council member, had won 50.4 percent of the vote compared with Rice's 49.6 percent with all precincts reporting.

"I am elated," said Flowers, 43, shortly after getting the news. "I'm jumping up and down like a little girl."

But Rice, who lost a squeaker of a race for a St. Petersburg City Council seat in 2005, said she would wait until at least this morning to concede. Just 264 votes separated her from Flowers out of 33,056 cast.

Provisional ballots, collected at polling places from those whose eligibility to vote could not be verified, have yet to be examined. Election officials did not know precisely how many such ballots they will have to review, but they said the job should be done by Thursday evening.

If the provisional ballots favor Rice and her margin of defeat is trimmed to 0.5 percent or lower, a recount would be triggered.

Flowers dismissed Rice's reluctance to bow out.

"If I had lost I would have called and congratulated her," Flowers said. "That's okay. I'm declaring victory."

Rice, a 38-year-old environmental advocate and civic leader, won some significant endorsements and outspent Flowers more than three-to-one. She acknowledged that Flowers was a strong candidate, but Rice said Tuesday's low voter turnout may have cost her.

"All of the constants and truisms and axioms of campaigning all get thrown out the window when there's low voter turnout," Rice said.

Flowers (or Rice, should a recount make her the victor) will face Republican School Board member Nancy Bostock in November.

Brickfield, 45, owner of a business that helps others win elections, used his expertise to beat Gallucci, 59, a 12-year School Board veteran, in a tight contest.

"This was an extremely aggressive race on both sides,'' Brickfield said. "Both of us have a lot to be proud of.''

He said primary night also marked 19 years of marriage to his wife, Kelley.

"This is potentially the best anniversary gift I've ever received,'' he said.

Brickfield will face Clearwater businessman Paul Matton in November. His strategy?

"I'm going to continue to talk to all the voters of Pinellas County about our need to watch our spending dollar by dollar and keep public safety our No. 1 priority,'' Brickfield said. "I will continue to run a very aggressive campaign.''

Gallucci could not be reached for comment.

Flowers celebrates, Rice won't concede in Pinellas commission race 08/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 3:16pm]
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