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Former county official reshaped Hillsborough political landscape

The most influential person in Hillsborough County politics in 2012 wasn't an elected official, well-monied power broker or big-time lobbyist.

In fact, prior to May, I'm not sure anyone had ever heard of Carolyn Filippone, the human relations director for the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's office. But in the final analysis, the resulting revelations from her sexual discrimination complaint against her boss Rob Turner impacted nine candidates and four races.

Start with the property appraiser's race. Turner appeared set to win a fifth term, but in defending himself, he admitted sending Filippone emails with sexual content and pornographic links. He said it was mutual, with both initiating the exchanges.

Still, the scandal immediately turned the race into a maelstrom for Turner. Former state Rep. Bob Henriquez, D-Tampa and then state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, jumped into the race, setting off a chain reaction.

Former state Senate president Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and then state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, entered the race to fill Storms' spot.

With Burgin giving up her house seat, Joe Wicker switched from the race for the newly created District 57 seat to compete for Burgin's abandoned District 59 seat. But Republican Ross Spano also saw a path to victory through Burgin's vacated seat.

Filippone's influence, if you will, set dominoes in motion that left some victorious and others with uncertain futures. Turner lost to Storms in the Republican primary, but Henriquez defeated Storms in the general election.

Lee defeated Burgin in the Republican primary and went on to win the general election. He's already gained a leadership position in the Senate.

Wicker lost to the eventual winner Spano in the GOP primary. With Wicker out of the way, Jake Raburn cruised to victory in the District 57 race.

It all left a lot of officials searching for work, including Storms and Burgin.

The possibilities for Storms are the most intriguing. She could bid to return to the County Commission and there will be three options: move into District 4 and run for the seat being vacated by Al Higginbotham, who's term limited; run against savvy incumbent Victor Crist in District 2, where she resides; run countywide for the seat being vacated by Mark Sharpe, who also is term limited.

The last two options are daunting for Storms, but I doubt if she or Burgin are done with politics. Name recognition alone makes them viable.

Still, without Filippone, Burgin and Storms might still be in office, Lee might still be building houses and Henriquez might still be coaching football at Tampa Catholic.

But her biggest influence may be on how bosses treat employees. Clearly, poor judgment can change more than the workplace, but it starts there.

That's all I'm saying.

Former county official reshaped Hillsborough political landscape 12/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 3:30am]

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