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White concedes District 3 Hillsborough County Commission race to Miller

TAMPA — Voters in central and eastern Hillsborough County sent a resounding message Tuesday: They are done with County Commissioner Kevin White.

White was sitting last in a three-way race in his bid for a second term on the County Commission, in a District 3 Democratic primary largely viewed as a referendum on his tenure.

Les Miller, a former state representative and senator, was trouncing White by a more than 2-to-1 margin, with most precincts reporting Tuesday night. Even newcomer Valerie Goddard outpaced White.

The results come a year to the week after a federal civil jury found that White discriminated against a former aide, who claimed she was fired for refusing his sexual advances.

"The people have spoken. The numbers are in," said a dejected White, who conceded to Miller shortly before 10 p.m. "I have no choice but to respect that."

Even Miller said he was taken aback by his apparent large margin of victory. With only write-in Dwight Bolden remaining for the general election, the outcome means Miller is likely to head to the commission.

"I have never seen anything like it," Miller said. "When I first saw the numbers coming, in I told my wife (Tampa City Council member Gwen Miller), who is my campaign manager, that these numbers are going to change. She said, 'I don't think so,' and they held during the entire night."

In the commission's other closely watched race, at-large District 7 incumbent Mark Sharpe held off feisty former Hillsborough Republican Party chief Josh Burgin, who conceded defeat.

The outcome should buoy supporters of the November general election ballot question on whether to raise the sales tax in the county by a penny to pay for new commuter rail, expanded bus service and rail.

Sharpe has been the commission's strongest supporter of the referendum, and Burgin had made that almost a singular focus of attack.

Sharpe will face Neil Cosentino, who is running without party affiliation in the general election, and write-in Benjamin Stutzman.

"I really see it as a referendum on myself for my job as a commissioner in a tough climate," Sharpe said. "I'm humbled and honored and feel like I have to work that much harder."

In the District 1 Republican primary to represent South Tampa and neighborhoods of the southern Hillsborough shoreline, former state Rep. Sandy Murman easily led newcomer Trey Rustmann.

Murman, who spent eight years in the state House until 2004, will face Democrat John Dingfelder, a former Tampa City Council member, in November.

And in the Republican primary for District 2 representing northern Hillsborough, state Sen. Victor Crist was tidily defeating land planner Linda Pearson.

Crist, who had to leave the District 12 Senate seat due to term limits, faces Steve Morris, who is running without party affiliation in the general election.

"I was very fortunate to have an honorable opponent, and she ran an honorable race," Crist said.

But the shocker of Election Day came in White's District 3. Not so much the seeming outcome, but the margin.

White has spent a trouble-plagued four years on the commission after a term on the Tampa City Council. Still, he had raised more money than both his campaign opponents, using much of it to attack Miller.

That didn't overcome the jury's finding that White had harassed a 22-year-old aide. The aide, Alyssa Ogden, said White hit on her repeatedly, including on a supposed business trip to Atlanta a few days into the job.

The lawsuit has cost taxpayers $450,000 in legal expenses and an award to Ogden, which added to the public outrage.

It comes on top of his past admission of masking the purchase of designer suits in a campaign report, for which he paid a fine.

"The people in District 3 wanted a change," Miller said. "They wanted change and they sent a message tonight."

Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

White concedes District 3 Hillsborough County Commission race to Miller 08/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 1:02am]
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