BROOKSVILLE — Eight days and one full recount later, the Election Day results of two tight Hernando County races were confirmed Wednesday.
Retired Brooksville educator Cynthia Moore defeated four-term incumbent Sandra Nicholson for the District 5 School Board seat, and Ken Fagan emerged victorious over Guy "Rusty'' Amore in the race for a second seat on the Spring Hill Fire Rescue Commission.
After reviewing ballots by machine and by hand, the margins of victory changed only slightly by the time the recount ended.
Moore, who led by 41 votes on Election Day, ultimately won by 38 votes out of 59,565 votes cast. Fagan, who had a mere one-vote lead last week, won by five votes in a race of nearly 41,000 votes cast in the fire board race.
The recounts were required by law because the margin of victory was less than one-half of 1 percent.
"You won, Miss Cynthia," Elections Supervisor Annie Williams said as she hugged Moore, who came Wednesday morning to the elections office at the Government Center to await the results.
"So, it's over?" Moore asked. "She can't ask for any more recounts?"
"It's over," Williams said.
The final official results will be submitted to the state Friday afternoon, Williams said.
The elections canvassing board reviewed absentee and provisional ballots last week. Then, on Monday and Tuesday of this week, board members oversaw an electronic recount of precinct ballots and on Wednesday reviewed so-called over- and under-votes.
On these ballots, the voter either did not make a clear selection or made too many choices. Williams and County Judge Donald Scaglione pored over ballots with dots and smudges in the respective races to determine voter intent.
The winners and losers alike said they had faith in Williams, her staff and the recount process
"They did their job," said Amore, 68, from behind the counter of the cafeteria he runs in the Government Center two floors about the elections office. "The public has spoken."
"Tomorrow is Veterans Day, and everything I stood up for, I saw come to fruition," said Fagan, a 73-year-old Air Force veteran and former New Jersey firefighter. "This process may not be the best, but damn it, it's the best in the world."
Moore will take her seat during the School Board's workshop on Tuesday and be officially sworn in during the evening meeting. Fagan will take his seat at the next regular fire board meeting, which is slated for next month.
"I think what happened was supposed to happen," Moore said. "It's still sinking in."
Nicholson's loss spoils a sweep for the three incumbents on the School Board. Members John Sweeney and Dianne Bonfield defeated their opponents in the August primary in the nonpartisan races, each on their way to a second term. The terms of board Chairman Pat Fagan and James Yant end in 2012.
In the August primary, the 68-year-old Moore took the second-most votes in a three-way race that also included Hernando High teacher Michael Bainum. She tried during the campaign to cast Nicholson, a former office manager for an engineering firm, as out of touch with teachers and parents.
Nicholson, 62, dismissed that assertion and said her lack of experience in the education field offered a much-needed business-based perspective.
She attributed the nail-biter of a defeat to a few factors, noting that the difference could have been made simply by being listed second on the ballot. But she also acknowledged that 14 years on a board takes a toll on a politician, and that she would have made some different decisions. She wouldn't cite specific cases.
"If you're doing your job and follow your conscience, you're going to tick some people off," Nicholson said. "You cannot make everyone happy. I'm proud of my record. I did what I felt was right at the time. I have no regrets."
Asked to gauge the prospects in her political future, Nicholson smiled and remained vague.
"I'm leaving all of my options open," she said. "When one door closes, another opens."
It's unclear what those options might be, though. Nicholson, who is a registered Republican, grimaced when asked if she might run for County Commission, comparing that job and the School Board as moving "out of the frying pan and into the fire." Nicholson lives in the district of Republican County Commissioner James Adkins, who is up for re-election in 2012, and she said she would not challenge Adkins if he decides to run again.
Perhaps a bid for the state House 44 seat, then? Republican Rep. Rob Schenck just won a third term and can run once more in 2012 before term limits would force him out.
Nicholson said the school district staff won't need to save a seat for her in the audience during board meetings. Staying very active in the district's business "is not my style," she said.
"If someone wants to call and pick my brain, I'll be more than happy to share some history," she said.
Fagan came in second behind Sherry Adler in a field of six candidates seeking to fill two open seats on the all-volunteer board. Board member Leo Jacobs decided not to run for election. The sole incumbent was Benjamin Edwards, who was appointed earlier this year to fill the seat of Gene Panozzo, who retired due to health reasons.
Both Adler and Fagan have been vocal critics of the current fire board, and their arrival is expected to create a triumvirate of sorts with current member Rob Giammarco.
Giammarco also called for more transparency and fiscal conservatism in the fire district and has been criticized by fellow board members who felt he asked too many questions. The terms of Giammarco, Chairwoman Amy Brosnan and member John Pasquale end in 2012.
"Everything I spoke of for two years, I'll try to make right," Fagan said. "I believe that Commissioner Giammarco has become the new leader, and we look forward to doing what we asked of the board and what the board refused to do."
Times staff writer Logan Neill contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.