TAMPA — With the end of elections qualifying on Friday, Hillsborough County races are set, and some candidates can already celebrate victories.
In a year that some observers say has been marked by anti-incumbent fervor, Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard and four state lawmakers ended up with no challengers.
"I absolutely am humbled to be serving in this position," Lennard, a former superintendent of Hillsborough County schools, said Friday. "Very much this is an indication that people are restoring their confidence in the supervisor's office."
Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Lennard, a Republican, to run the county's elections office last July after the death of Democrat Phyllis Busansky.
In 2008, Busansky defeated Buddy Johnson, whose tenure was marked by missteps that led to a federal investigation of the spending of grant money intended for voter education.
The legislators who can breathe easy are Democratic state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, Democratic state Rep. Betty Reed and Republican state Reps. Rich Glorioso and Seth McKeel.
The last-minute entry of Republican Josh Burgin in the at-large District 7 Hillsborough County Commission race means incumbent Mark Sharpe has an opponent in the Aug. 24 primary.
Burgin, the brother of state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Brandon, worked as a legislative aide to former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair. He has also served as executive director of the Hillsborough County Republican Party.
Sharpe, who has broken from conservative party ranks by strongly supporting a proposed sales tax to pay for road improvements, expanded bus service and light rail, said he welcomes the challenge.
"I love my job. And I love serving the people, but I never, ever take it for granted," he said.
And he said he'll continue to support the sales tax and encourage debate about that approach to improving the county's infrastructure and creating jobs.
Burgin made it clear that Sharpe's support of the tax prompted him to jump into the race.
"It was an agonizing decision," he said. As a supporter of the party establishment, Burgin said he generally backs Republican incumbents.
"But looking at the big board, for Sharpe to be strongly advocating for the tax increase, for him to continuously pound that drumbeat of we need to pass the tax — this is so at odds with the Republican orthodoxy that I needed to give voters a choice," Burgin said.
Former state Rep. Sandy Murman and Trey Rustmann, a project manager for a personnel firm, will face off in the Republican primary for the County Commission District 1 seat. Margaret Iuculano dropped out of the race and endorsed Rustmann. District 1 comprises West and South Tampa, as well as the Apollo Beach-Ruskin area.
Rustmann is already casting himself as the political outsider in the contest.
The primary winner will face Democrat John Dingfelder, a two-term Tampa City Council member. Republican Rose Ferlita is the incumbent, but she plans to run for Tampa mayor in 2011.
State Sen. Victor Crist and land planner Linda Pearson will appear on the Republican primary ballot for the District 2 County Commission seat representing north Hillsborough. Crist is term-limited out of his state job. The winner will face Steven Morris, who is running with no party affiliation.
Ken Hagan, a Republican, currently holds that position, but he is running for the countywide District 5 seat. He'll face Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, a Democrat, and former county planner Jim Hosler, who has no party affiliation, in the general election in November.
Saul-Sena, a champion of environmental protection, mass transit, the arts and historic preservation, presents a stark contrast to Hagan, who is often grouped into the block of commissioners characterized as developer-friendly.
Saul-Sena is one of the most ardent proponents of the proposed transportation sales tax. Hagan backed asking voters to consider the tax but has said he expects it to fail. Hosler vehemently opposes the tax and even putting it on the ballot.
County Commissioner Kevin White will face former state Sen. Les Miller and Valerie Goddard, chairwoman of the Children's Board, in the Democratic primary for the District 3 seat. Newcomer Dwight Bolden has also qualified for that race as a write-in candidate. The district includes east and central Tampa.
White has faced numerous controversies since his commission run four years ago. Most recently, a federal jury ruled in favor of a former aide who accused White of sexual discrimination. Regardless, the White campaign has raised far more money than his opponents'. According to the most recent campaign finance reports, White has collected $101,105 in cash and in-kind contributions, compared with Goddard's $17,941 and Miller's $46,147.
Staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.