Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Line forms to succeed Phyllis Busansky as Hillsborough elections chief

TAMPA — After Pam Iorio, a Democratic supervisor of elections, left office six years ago to run for Tampa mayor, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush appointed a successor, former GOP legislator Buddy Johnson.

Now, with the sudden death of Phyllis Busansky, who ousted Johnson in the November elections, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist will appoint a new elections chief to replace a Democrat.

Whether Crist will tap one of Busansky's fellow Democrats, appoint one of his own party faithful or seek out the ablest administrator available remains to be seen. But applicants for the supervisor's job already are lining up, and it may take Crist weeks to settle on Busansky's replacement.

Florida law requires that the governor appoint a successor who will serve until the next general election, November 2010. The $132,000-a-year elections job would then be on the ballot for a two-year term.

"As we've done in the past in filling vacancies, we will accept applications, conduct interviews and background checks, and it will probably take several weeks until we get through the process,'' Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said. "Right now, the governor's thoughts and concerns are with Mrs. Busansky's family, her co-workers and the officials with her when the death occurred."

Busansky, 72, died after retiring to her bedroom Monday night at a conference for Florida elections officials in St. Augustine.

Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank said Tuesday that the governor should follow "the will of the people'' who elected Busansky and install another Democrat as elections chief. Frank said Busansky's chief of staff, Craig Latimer, should be considered because "he was in sync with what Phyllis was doing" to repair problems in the office.

Latimer, with 35 years in law enforcement, retired as a major in the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office to manage Busansky's election campaign and then became her top lieutenant. He declined to comment Tuesday.

Latimer is not a name politician, Frank said, and "the public may not know him, but he would be a fine choice."

In 2003, 17 local candidates put their names on the list to replace Iorio as elections supervisor. Johnson, co-founder of BuddyFreddys restaurants, a three-term state representative from Plant City and a Jeb Bush appointee to head the Florida Division of Real Estate, got the nod after a recommendation from Johnny Byrd, then the powerful GOP speaker of the Florida House.

Johnson's legacy was botched elections, lost ballots, misappropriated money and ongoing investigations by the FBI and the inspector general.

Johnson was noncommittal Tuesday, but some of the other candidates from last time are ready to try again.

Janet Dougherty, whose name was Janet Kovach the last time her hat was in the ring, said she will "absolutely" seek the appointment. A Republican and an environmental and regulatory consultant, Dougherty was a poll worker during Johnson's tenure and did voter education for Iorio.

"Phyllis was an amazing woman and has brought that office back so much. I'd like to continue that,'' she said.

Political consultant Mark Proctor, another also-ran in 2003, said he "would certainly consider" seeking the appointment again. Proctor, a Republican, said he believes party preference should not be an issue since the electorate was not so much voting out a Republican last year as it was throwing out an incumbent with a subpar record.

"I think the office should be nonpartisan anyway, and that's how I'd run it,'' he said.

Joe Chillura, a Republican who sometimes allied himself with Busansky on the Hills­borough County Commission, sought the elections appointment in 2003 and isn't ruling out another try.

"Out of respect for Phyllis, I don't want to jump on that bandwagon right now," Chillura said. "But I think first of all, the governor should look within the office to see if there is someone who's qualified, someone that's nonpartisan, someone who can fit the bill."

On this, Frank and Chillura agreed: Crist must appoint someone who will maintain the trust Busansky built up in the elections office.

"This office was a tremendous problem before Busansky got there and began restructuring to bring back integrity to the place,'' Frank said. "This is a delicate time. Certainly, we do not need a reckless choice by the governor."

Jeff Testerman can be reached at (813) 226-3422 or

Line forms to succeed Phyllis Busansky as Hillsborough elections chief 06/23/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 27, 2009 11:29am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates


    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears


    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'


    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]