TAMPA — Not many political incumbents would appear more vulnerable this election season than Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White.
White, 45, has weathered troubling accusations throughout his political career, first as a Tampa City Council member and more recently as a commissioner. His wounds are particularly fresh right now, coming off a federal civil trial late last year when a jury found he sexually discriminated against a former aide.
Yet here he stands, asking for understanding and a new term.
"I believe everyone in this room knows some of the controversy that I've been involved in and have been able to see through the minutiae and continued to support me," White said during a February campaign kickoff that drew 200 people.
He says he deserves another term to continue fighting for residents in his district, which covers much of central Tampa and part of eastern Hillsborough County.
White faces two challengers in the August Democratic primary, former state legislator Les Miller and first-time candidate Valerie Goddard, chair of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. Despite White's seeming vulnerability, both have had trouble raising the money necessary to run a viable campaign against him.
Miller, 59, spent 14 years in the Legislature, six in the Senate the rest in the House. He rose to party leadership posts in both chambers, though through most of his tenure Democrats were in a decided minority.
As a result, it was a challenge for him to win approval of major initiatives, though he does claim credit for several bits of legislation aimed at helping minorities advance in the business and health care arenas.
Miller has been hesitant to mention White's troubles directly, though he says he was encouraged to run for commission by people seeking an alternative to the incumbent.
"I'm running for that seat because the issues of this district have been lacking (in attention) for the past four years," said Miller, who works as a student ombudsman at the University of South Florida. "They're not even on the back burner; they're off the stove."
Goddard, 45, similarly says the accusations White has confronted during his time in office have prevented him from effectively representing his constituents. She said she hears from residents who try to get issues of concern brought to White's office but can't get a return phone call.
"Folks are angry and frustrated thinking that the time spent on these issues have taken time from what's really important," she said. "They want people who represent them that can focus their attention on the issues that matter to them."
She said she intends to bring creative solutions to figuring out ways the county can continue providing quality services to residents in lean budgetary times. She said she has done that as chair of the Children's Board and previously as executive director of Helping Hands Day Nursery.
The winner faces write-in candidate Dwight Anthony Bolden in the general election.
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or [email protected]