TAMPA — An air of anticipation fell over the room Thursday as Hillsborough County commissioners bade farewell to three of their colleagues.
After all, two of the three were leaving under a pall.
Mercifully, perhaps, Republican Jim Norman was a no-show for the ceremony following revelations that a top political supporter helped his wife acquire a $435,000 Arkansas home. Democrat Kevin White kept it humble, even provoking a tear or two, as he exited due to a decisive defeat in the August primary that came in the wake of a jury finding he sexually harassed an aide.
So the ceremony went off without too many sideways glances.
White thanked the creators of a tribute video highlighting some of his political efforts, saying, "You can even make me look good at times." He thanked the employees, his aides and residents of his district. Then he summoned his wife of 24 years, Jennie, to his side to thank her.
"She's been the wind beneath my wings because she stands with me through the good and bad, through the tough times and sad," White said. "And luckily for us over 24 years, the good times far outweigh the bad."
White was defeated by former state Sen. Les Miller, who takes office in two weeks. White's four-year tenure was marked by struggles, and the nearly half-million dollars in legal fees and penalties stemming from his trial remains a source of consternation among other commissioners.
But they were polite, if not loquacious, in their sendoff remarks.
"It's been a great pleasure to serve with you," said Kevin Beckner, the only other Democrat on the commission. "Each of us bring a diverse perspective to the board, and you certainly have brought yours here."
White departs along with Rose Ferlita, another one-term commissioner who is running for Tampa mayor, and Norman, an 18-year veteran of the board. Norman submitted a letter offering his regrets about not being able to attend, saying he is in transition to his new Florida Senate job.
Those ambitions were almost derailed by a lawsuit that revealed his wife accepted a $500,000 gift from one of Norman's political patrons. The money was used to buy a lakefront home in Arkansas. His absence had helped ease the potential awkwardness of the proceedings.
Norman's letter expressed his gratitude to the public for letting him serve the community, and complimented his fellow board members.
"God bless each of you and God Bless America," it signed off.
Ferlita was all tears from the outset, and remained that way through her video tribute, which noted her efforts on behalf of animals and bullied children, and her own parting remarks. An Animal Services employee brought Della, a rescued basenji mix named after one of Ferlita's aides, to the ceremony.
"To every single person who has made this county government a team, I will miss you all," Ferlita said. "It has been a pleasure and an honor to be your co-worker."
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or [email protected]