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Pinellas commission race turns into waiting game

Will they try for four more years or step down?

That question hovers over county Commissioners Bob Stewart and Ronnie Duncan, causing uncertainty for those who would run to replace them.

"They are being asked," Pinellas County GOP chief Tony DiMatteo said. "Inquiring minds want to know."

Four County Commission seats are up for election in November. Commissioner Ken Welch jumped in on Jan. 17. Commissioner Karen Seel filed to run Feb. 20.

Yet Stewart, who is completing his fourth term, has stood back. So has Duncan, a first-term commissioner who presided as commission chairman during the controversial purchase of Property Appraiser Jim Smith's private land in East Lake.

Stewart, 70, and Duncan, 50, have until late June to get on the ballot, either by voter petition or by paying a qualifying fee of $5,456. But given the effort required to raise cash and organize, some say the hour is getting late.

"I think you should be out there at this time," said Barbara Sheen Todd, who spent nearly a quarter-century on the County Commission before stepping down in 2004. "Ordinarily, one would be doing that."

Former Pinellas County state Sen. Curt Kiser holds a different view. He said Stewart and Duncan still have the upper hand.

"When you are the incumbent you do have the luxury of waiting a while," Kiser said. "This is the middle of March, and I don't think it's late at all."

Stewart and Duncan hold countywide seats. Primaries are Aug. 26 and the general election is Nov. 4.

DiMatteo said he expects Duncan to run, but the commissioner recently told the Times that although he loves Pinellas County, he loves his children more.

"When you miss baseball games and you miss karate tournaments," Duncan said, "you can't get those days back."

He said coverage of his role in the Jim Smith deal isn't a factor in his deliberations, and that he expected to decide soon.

Meanwhile, some have already decided, while others are on the sidelines.

A Democrat, Clearwater businessman Paul Matton, is in the race to succeed Duncan. So is Ray Brooks, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Susan Latvala two years ago.

But speculation abounds about another potential Republican contender. School Board member Jane Gallucci admits to being interested, but she won't make a move until Duncan decides.

"I don't have a sense of urgency," Gallucci said. "I have a sense that Ronnie needs to do what Ronnie needs to do."

Democrat Darden Rice has an eye on Stewart's seat, but said she's unlikely to compete if he decides to go for another term.

Former state Sen. Jim Sebesta said he's gotten inquiries about a possible run to succeed Stewart. But Sebesta said he considers Stewart a friend and won't make any move until the incumbent makes a decision.

School Board member Nancy Bostock is "very interested" in Stewart's seat and would prefer not to announce before Stewart goes public, but said she can't wait forever.

"There is going to have to be a point where if he is undecided I'm going to have to start to run," Bostock said.

Stewart told the Times Tuesday to expect an announcement within days.

For those unmoved by the candidates-in-waiting named so far, former state Rep. Leslie Waters said she hasn't ruled out a run for either Duncan or Stewart's seat.

"I'm keeping all my options open," Waters said.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4166.

Pinellas commission race turns into waiting game 03/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 1:35pm]
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