Voters went to the polls in nine Pinellas municipalities Tuesday to choose a variety of mayors and council members and to resolve charter amendment and referendum issues. Here are the results.
It was the incumbents' night, where debate about the future of the historic Belleview Biltmore hotel dominated the campaign season.
Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler, 67, and Commissioner Michael Wilkinson, 47, edged out newcomer Jim White, 68, to win three-year terms on the Town Commission. Fowler has served on the commission since 1997. Wilkinson has been on the commission since 2010. Both were strong advocates for preserving as much of the hotel as possible.
White, president of the Belle- view Biltmore Homes Association, said he hadn't reached a conclusion about whether the hotel should be saved.
Unofficial results Tuesday night showed that Fowler received 609 votes, or 34.1 percent of the 1,786 votes cast. Wilkinson got one vote less than Fowler, for 34 percent, and White drew 569 votes, for 31.9 percent.
Voters had no council seats to fill, but they did vote on two ballot questions. The first, which is nonbinding on elected officials, directed the City Council to develop a plan and financing to put utility lines underground. Unofficial results show that passed with 56 percent of the vote, or 193 of the 347 votes cast.
The other item was a "housekeeping" charter amendment to eliminate the city council's finance committee, which has not been used since the city switched to a city manager form of government. That passed with a resounding 84 percent, or 281 votes of the 334 cast.
Voters here split their vote Tuesday, returning one incumbent to office but very narrowly rejecting another.
They also overwhelmingly approved five referendum questions dealing with city operations.
Ward 1 incumbent Council member David C. Hastings, 64, was defeated in his bid to be returned to office by seven votes (936-929), according to unofficial results. The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office announced late Tuesday that a machine recount will be conducted today.
Both challenger Dan Liedtke, 42, a business consultant, and Hastings, a CPA, ran on their business ability to help the city through tough economic times.
Ward 3 incumbent Council member Jennifer Salmon, 52, received 61 percent of the vote to defeat her challenger, James E. Perry, 55, by 391 votes.
Salmon campaigned on developing Gulfport as a "green,'' art-focused city, while Perry's campaign focused on public safety, preserving the city police department and strong criticism of the council's decisions.
The referendum questions set new rules governing how city-owned property can be sold, establishes the right of candidates to appoint watchers at the polls in future elections, and reduces charter requirements for referendum elections to ratify spending large sums of money.
Unofficial results showed that voters re-elected Jim Lawrence to his third term as mayor. Lawrence had said he wanted the chance to complete several projects, like the beautification of Gulf Boulevard.
Lawrence received 267 votes, or 55 percent. John "Teo" Ruscin polled 222 votes, or 45 percent, of the 489 votes that were cast.
Incumbent commissioner Terry Lister was resoundingly returned to office Tuesday, capturing 63 percent of the vote against his challenger, John Anthony.
Lister, 55, who won by 184 votes, often has been the lone voice of opposition as the current commission moved to reorganize city hall in the past year — a process that resulted in the city losing many longtime administrators through either resignation or firing.
Anthony, 63, ran on a platform of "getting the city back on track" and as a fiscal conservative.
Patricia Johnson won in a landslide over Eddie Kosinski in the race for a seat on the City Council. Johnson and Kosinski, both local business owners, were both running for the council for the second time. Johnson romped home with 2,383, or 68 percent, of the 3,513 votes cast, according to unofficial results. Kosinski got 1,130 votes, for 32 percent.
Voters here returned incumbents Leslie Waters and Patricia Plantamura to the City Council. Waters, a former state representative, had begun the campaign season by seeking a seat in the Florida House. But Waters changed her mind and decided to run for re-election to the Seminole council with the goal of running for mayor in the future. Her decision, and the hefty campaign chest she brought with her when she switched races, prompted criticism from candidate Tom Christy.
But voters did not agree with Christy's concerns. Waters was the top vote-getter with 1,541, or 33 percent. Plantamura was second with 1,294 votes, for 28 percent, just ahead of Largo police officer Christopher Burke, who drew 995 votes, for 21 percent. Christy came in fourth with 496 votes, or 11 percent, and first-time candidate Sheryl Goff got 373 votes, for 8 percent. Unofficial results showed there were 4,699 total votes cast.
In an actively fought election here, one incumbent prevailed, while another lost to a former member of the city commission.
District 4 Commissioner Alan Bildz was resoundingly returned to office with 56 percent of the vote despite being challenged by two candidates.
Bob Weber captured second place with 33 percent of the vote, while "Fred" Frederick G. Kelsey trailed with 11 percent.
In District 2, challenger and former commission member Irving S. "Butch" Ellsworth Jr. defeated incumbent Commissioner Gail Caldwell to reclaim the seat he lost in 2003 with 54 percent of the vote.
St. Pete Beach
By 34 votes (53 percent), challenger Lorraine Huhn echoed her January win to again defeat incumbent Al Halpern in the District 1 commission runoff.
Huhn, 81, was supported by hoteliers and previously was president of Save Our Little Village, a political action group that successfully sought voter approval of a comprehensive plan that has since been challenged in court.
Halpern, 65, also was once a member of SOLV and previously had received support from the city's hoteliers.
Staff writers Anne Lindberg and Diane Steinle and correspondent Sheila Mullane Estrada contributed to this report.