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Hillsborough commissioners sworn in, with a first

Judge-elect Caroline J. Tesche, left, swears in Kevin Beckner, right, as a Hillsborough County commissioner while his partner, Gil Sainz, center, a sergeant and 23-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, watches the ceremony on Tuesday at the County Center in Tampa.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Judge-elect Caroline J. Tesche, left, swears in Kevin Beckner, right, as a Hillsborough County commissioner while his partner, Gil Sainz, center, a sergeant and 23-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, watches the ceremony on Tuesday at the County Center in Tampa.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County's first openly gay commissioner was sworn in Tuesday, with his partner at his side.

Democrat Kevin Beckner took the oath of office before a standing-room-only crowd that spilled into the first floor at County Center.

Like the two other commissioners sworn in, Beckner thanked his parents and supporters. He singled out a 96-year-old activist who collected 400 signatures to get his name on the ballot and another woman who campaigned for him while battling cancer.

As he joined a commission that three years ago voted to ban gay pride displays on county property, he also recognized his partner of 10 years.

Beckner disclosed his sexual orientation on the campaign trail, but did not identify his partner other than saying he worked in law enforcement. On Tuesday, he thanked Gil Sainz, a sergeant and 23-year veteran of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office who works in recruitment and screening.

Beckner, 37, is a financial planner and former police officer in Indiana. He defeated Republican Brian Blair, a one-term incumbent, by a 10-point margin Nov. 4.

In addition to Beckner, returning Commissioners Ken Hagan and Al Higginbotham were sworn in for new terms after easily winning re-election. Commissioners unanimously selected Hagan to serve another year as the board's chairman, Mark Sharpe to return as vice chairman and Higginbotham to serve as their chaplain.

Commissioners also settled on assignments to related boards, a process that has been contentious in the past, but was handled cordially Tuesday with most of the incumbents returning to positions they held last year.

Jim Norman returns to the Tampa Sports Authority. Rose Ferlita takes over a slot on the Tampa Port Authority she lost to Blair last year. Higginbotham returns as chairman of the Environmental Protection Commission, with Beckner as vice chairman.

Commissioners offered a few words — highlighting goals and welcoming the newbie — with Sharpe getting the big laugh.

"Enjoy this crowd," he said. "The next time you see a crowd this large, they're not going to be smiling."

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Hillsborough commissioners sworn in, with a first 11/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 6:34pm]
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