Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats will not run for re-election

Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats won't run for re-election in 2012 — an announcement that will pit his predecessor against his chosen successor.

Coats, who has been sheriff since 2004, said Tuesday that he will support a campaign by his chief deputy, Bob Gualtieri, who filed paperwork to run for sheriff the same day.

The news comes on the heels of an announcement last week by former longtime Sheriff Everett Rice that he plans to run for the job again. Rice is a fellow Republican who preceded Coats and made Coats his heir apparent.

It creates an early lineup for the 2012 sheriff's race, surprising fellow politicians and friends of Coats and Rice.

"It's strange," said Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, a friend of both. "I wouldn't have expected the situation to develop quite like this."

Coats, 67, said Tuesday that Rice's move didn't affect his decision not to run. He gave a variety of reasons for the decision, including that he'll be 69 when he finishes his current term. He's been in law enforcement for 40 years, and the sheriff's job is a demanding one. "Seven days a week, sometimes," he said.

Coats said he's "been to a lot of funerals lately, it seems," and those losses have made him realize that "maybe there's another side to life I need to be exploring."

In recent years, Coats has been grooming Gualtieri to succeed him.

Coats said he's considering how else to serve the community once his term ends, including potentially seeking another public office, perhaps with the county or with the city of Clearwater, where he lives.

The combination of Rice's re-emergence and Coats' backing of Gualtieri, 49, will create a high-profile contest.

"This will be quite a race," said Clearwater attorney Ed Armstrong, who has previously made campaign contributions to Rice and Coats.

Rice, an attorney and Treasure Island resident, served 16 years as sheriff before leaving office for the Florida House in 2004. He quit a 2006 bid for attorney general, but remains a recognizable name. His appearance at Republican meetings this spring triggered speculation about his plans, including talk of running for Florida Senate. Rice, 66, said he's better suited for being sheriff than a legislator.

He said he and Coats haven't discussed their political futures.

"There's no falling out between Jim Coats and I. He's done a good job," Rice said.

Rice said he had a successful four terms as sheriff. "The office of sheriff is already going to be open. I'm the best qualified — I've run it," he said.

Though lesser known, Gualtieri has been preparing to run for more than a year. He landed County Commissioner Neil Brickfield's support a year ago, said Brickfield, lauding his work on budget issues.

The son of a New York district attorney, Gualtieri worked in the 1980s and '90s as a patrol deputy and a detective, though he left the Sheriff's Office between 1998 and 2006 to be a lawyer. He returned as the agency's general counsel in 2006 and became Coats' chief deputy in 2008.

Since then, Gualtieri has developed a more visible public profile, going to community meetings and leading budget talks with the County Commission. He also directed the creation of Pinellas Safe Harbor, a large homeless shelter near the county jail that opened in January.

A resident of East Lake, Gualtieri, is married to lawyer Lauralee Westine, frequently a GOP donor. He has three daughters, ages 5, 20 and 22.

On Tuesday, Gualtieri welcomed the support of Coats, who has easily won two terms. "He's done a great job as sheriff and I look forward to being able to follow through with all the things he's done, we've been able to do, the past few years."

This spring, Coats had floated plans to turn over the sheriff's job to Gualtieri, raising eyebrows among Republicans. Then Rice jumped into the race.

"It's going to put a lot of people in a difficult position," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, a longtime Pinellas Republican power broker.

Latvala questioned Rice's ultimate intentions, saying the former sheriff had recently asked him about running for state Senate, not sheriff. But Rice, who hasn't filed paperwork to run for sheriff yet, said he's serious.

Latvala wouldn't divulge who he would endorse, but he effusively praised Gualtieri as leaving him "very impressed." Calling Rice "a dear friend," Latvala said he wanted to have a conversation with Rice before announcing any endorsement.

Paul Bedinghaus, a former county Republican Party chairman, said Coats' support is valuable to Gualtieri. But Rice remains the more recognizable name in Pinellas.

"Everett, when he was sheriff, was one of the most powerful people in the county," Bedinghaus said, "and he had the best operation and fundraising ability."

Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats will not run for re-election 05/17/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 10 sailors missing, 5 hurt in collision of USS John S. McCain

    SEOUL —Ten U.S. Navy sailors are missing and five have been injured after the USS John S. McCain destroyer collided with an oil tanker near Singapore early Monday morning.

    In this Jan. 22, 2017, photo provided by U.S. Navy, the USS John S. McCain patrols in the South China Sea while supporting security efforts in the region. The guided-missile destroyer collided with a merchant ship on Monday, Aug. 21, in waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca. Ten sailors were missing, and five were injured, the Navy said. [James Vazquez/U.S. Navy via AP]
  2. Pasco County Fire Rescue fighting a two-alarm fire started by an explosion

    Fire

    Two houses are on fire and one victim has been critically burned and taken to a trauma center following an explosion at a home at 8652 Velvet Dr, in Port Richey.

  3. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.
  4. Bucs counting on better health creating better pass rush

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Ask Bucs coaches about the improved depth and health of their defensive line, and they'll look around for a piece of wood to knock on.

    Retired All-Pro defensive end  Simeon Rice, right, the last Buc to have double-digit sacks in a season,  works with defensive end Ryan Russell, who last season was promoted from the practice squad for the second half of the year as injuries piled up. He is competing for a backup job this year.
  5. Tampa man turns himself in for Sunday hit and run fatality

    Public Safety

    A Tampa man was arrested early Sunday after he struck and killed a pedestrian, left the scene, and then called 911 to turn himself in.