The most hotly contested Pinellas County Commission race this year is one nobody knew would be run until a little over a month ago.
Since County Commissioner Charles Rainey's unexpected retirement announcement June 13, his ex-wife, an ex-colleague and a newcomer to countywide politics declared their candidacy for his District 2 seat, which he will vacate in November.
Mary Rainey was Charles Rainey's wife for 19 years before they divorced in 1994, the same year candidate Barbara Sheen Todd announced she was retiring from the County Commission after 14 years. Now they both want his seat.
The third candidate, Stephen Watts, is mayor of Belleair, where he was a city commissioner 1993 to 1995.
Since all three are Republicans, the winner could be determined as soon as Sept. 3, the date of the first primary, if any candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. That doesn't give them much time to raise money, print posters and knock on doors.
"There's a lot to do in just a few months," said Mary Rainey. "I've got my bumper stickers and fliers, but I'm still working on posters."
Todd said she had a head start because much of her network of volunteers is still around from the days when she held the District 5 commission seat. Todd said Friday she and her husband have rented an apartment in Rainey's district, which is in southwest Pinellas. She also said she has more than 400 people working phones, canvassing neighborhoods and putting up fliers.
In any case, Charles Rainey's successor will be known by Oct. 1, the date of the second primary. The only commission race that will determined in the general election Nov. 5 is the one between Democrat Larry Hyman and incumbent Republican Robert Stewart.
Automatically re-elected Friday, the last day to file to run, were commissioners Steve Seibert and Sallie Parks. Parks, who has raised more than $27,000 in campaign contributions this year, said that, in her bid against incumbent John Chesnut in 1992, she worried she wasn't going to raise enough to pay the $4,583 filing fee.
"I'll probably help out other candidates this year," she said. "Something happens to me around August when I get this fever and I just feel like if I'm not out there knocking on doors on Saturday morning, there's something wrong."
Property Appraiser Jim Smith and Supervisor of Elections Dorothy Ruggles also are unopposed. Ruggles, who will begin her third four-year term in January, had no opposition when she ran in 1988 and 1992. During a break on Friday, she sounded relieved.
"You don't have time to run in an election if you're running an election," she said.
But other county constitutional officers have plenty of opposition. Clerk of Circuit Court Karleen DeBlaker faces former clerk's office employee Jane Olds and accountant Don Leonard. Tax Collector Fred Petty is being challenged by his former top assistant, Gerald Castellanos, and art gallery owner Art Werner.
Sheriff Everett Rice is opposed by Georgia Palmer, the only Democrat running for any of the constitutional officer seats.
_ Jen Pilla, the Times' Pinellas County government reporter, can be reached at 445-4166.