Rudolph Bradley, the school social worker turned politician, handily won his bid Tuesday to replace another schoolteacher as legislator for Florida House District 55.
Bradley, 47, received 3,997 votes, or 71.9 percent. Independent Grady Irvin garnered 897 votes, or 16.1 percent. And Republican Charles Fleer collected 665 votes, for 12 percent.
"I'm just humbled by the whole experience," Bradley said Tuesday night. "I'm a happy person. I just want to thank the voters for having confidence in me _ and I'm not going to let them down."
Bradley will leave for Tallahassee today and be sworn in as a lawmaker Thursday, he said. His first concern will be studying and beginning to help shape the state's budget. After that, Bradley will meet with the House leadership as he tries to land assignments to committees responsible for shaping legislation he hopes to pass.
"Hopefully, my assignments will be related to issues I've been discussing throughout the campaign, such as education, health care, crime, affordable housing and jobs," Bradley said.
Irvin, who had hoped to go to Tallahassee without a party affiliation, attributed Bradley's stunning success to a series of radio ads in which Doug Jamerson, who held his seat more than a decade, endorsed Bradley's candidacy.
"Jamerson's endorsement of Bradley was significant," Irvin said. "We think that had a very significant impact."
Irvin said he is pondering whether to run again later this year. ."Fifteen percent of the vote is a very good showing, we feel," Irvin said. "We're very happy with that. We've got every reason to hold our heads up high."
Despite the overwhelmingly Democratic electorate in the district, Fleer also is contemplating another pass at the seat. Fleer acknowledged he had little chance of winning.
"It would have been quite innovative to be able to do this," he said. "But I felt I wanted to bring forward the issues I was personally concerned about."
District 55 includes most of southern St. Petersburg, part of northern Manatee County and a couple of voters in Hillsborough. The turnout in Pinellas, which contains the lion's share of the district with 36,790 registered voters, was 13.8 percent. In Manatee, with 8,720 registered voters, 6.4 percent cast ballots.
Bradley will have to defend his seat in November when his term expires. The race became necessary last year when Jamerson was appointed state education commissioner after Betty Castor was named president of the University of South Florida.
It was a difficult race for Bradley, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the state Senate in 1992. First, he had to emerge from a field of five into the Democratic runoff. The slate contained several impressive contenders, including a former Palmetto City Council member and Jamerson's former legislative aide.
In the runoff, Bradley faced the top vote-getter, the Rev. Mayjor Mason Walker, pastor of Moore's Chapel AME Church in St. Petersburg. Walker ran a tough campaign, but was edged out by Bradley by about 300 votes.