Friday, February 23, 2018
Politics

Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche won't see a second term

Voters denied Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche a second term on Tuesday, even as they opted to give fellow Republican incumbent John Morroni four more years.

State Rep. Ed Hooper soundly defeated Roche by capturing nearly 64 percent of the vote in the countywide District 2 Republican primary. Hooper now faces Democrat Pat Gerard, the mayor of Largo, in the Nov. 4 general election.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers beat a crowded Republican field of seven vying to succeed retiring commissioner Susan Latvala. Eggers won 30 percent of the vote; his closest challengers were former state Rep. Peter Nehr and retired dentist Johnny Johnson Jr., each of whom garnered about 22 percent.

And Morroni cruised to victory with 66 percent of the vote over Seminole businessman Tom Rask in the District 6 universal Republican primary. The win means Morroni will get another term because no other candidate qualified to run.

Hooper, who must leave his House seat due to term limits, said he decided to run against Roche because the rigidity of his views rendered him ineffective. He also pointed to a string of controversies during Roche's first year and his position against adding fluoride to water.

The 67-year-old former Clearwater city commissioner spent about $91,000, or roughly three and half times more than Roche. Hooper watched results with state House candidate Chris Latvala and friends, family, elected officials and other supporters at Quaker Steak & Lube in Pinellas Park.

"The voters have clearly spoken," Hooper told the packed house, his wife, Lee, by his side. "They've indicated they're ready for a change at the County Commission."

Roche, 52, in a text message to a Times reporter, had this response: "Disappointing, to say the least, but I couldn't be more blessed by the opportunity, is all. I set a goal, reached it and did some good works with it. How bad could I feel."

Asked what he thought caused the result, he replied: "An election happened … lol … nah, no thoughts on that right now."

In the District 6 race, Rask levied harsh criticism at the 14-year incumbent, saying Morroni had defied term limits and become beholden to special interests. Rask, 50, also attacked Morroni's support of the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum.

"This win is a testament to a positive campaign," Morroni, 59, said by phone as he celebrated with family and supporters at the Hilton at Carillon Park in St. Petersburg. "Negative doesn't work. I'm ecstatic, and I appreciate all the support."

In the District 4 race, Eggers, 57, will now face Democrat Mark Weinkrantz, a 57-year-old airline pilot and East Lake fire commissioner, and two no-party candidates: Marcus Harrison, 56, of Palm Harbor, a consultant specializing in electrical systems; and Carl Folkman, 48, of Crystal Beach, president of Florida Wine & Spirits.

"I'm humbled completely, again, by the residents who go into the ballot box and put their faith in me," Eggers said. "I'm so excited, but there's so much work to do."

Nehr, 62, drew a slew of last-minute attacks, including a public rebuke from Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, who wrote in an open letter posted on social media that Nehr was not ethically fit for public office.

Nehr sent out a mailer calling Eggers and Johnson "RINOs"— Republicans in name only — for their support of the Greenlight referendum, which if approved will raise the sales tax by 1 cent to fund expanded bus service and a light rail system between Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Nehr said Tuesday that he didn't think the attacks against him made the difference. He also praised Eggers.

"If I wasn't running I would have supported Dave myself," he said. "He's a nice guy, he's experienced, and he'll do well for the citizens of Pinellas County."

Johnson spent a whopping $111,000 on his campaign, loaning himself more than $40,000. He also had the backing of Susan Latvala, who has held the seat since 2000. He did not return messages Tuesday.

Times staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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