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Some candidates already winners

Friday's deadline for qualifying as a candidate in Hillsborough County's state and local elections produced a slew of contenders but few surprises.

More than 110 candidates paid qualifying fees or turned in petitions with the required number of voters' signatures at the Hillsborough County supervisor of elections office.

For 31 of those candidates, Friday was the last day of the campaign. They automatically won their contests, which typically meant winning re-election, when no other candidates filed to run.

Sheriff Cal Henderson, Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio, Tax Collector Melvin Smith and Clerk of Circuit Court Richard Ake all won four more years in office without having to see their names on the ballot.

As busy as Iorio was helping other candidates get their paperwork in order, she said the moment felt good.

"To me, it reflects the job that my office does," Iorio said. "My staff works so hard."

Property Appraiser Ron Alderman, whose last term has been a roller coaster ride of camera crews filming him coming out of bars during work hours and state investigations of his office, did draw opposition.

Fred Pachoud, whom Alderman fired from the property appraiser's office, and bank executive Rob Turner will square off in the Republican primary to determine who challenges the Democratic incumbent in November.

The race for public defender will pit Democratic incumbent Julianne Holt against Republican John D. Hooker, who started this year's campaign season as a candidate for state attorney.

Hooker's switch left Republicans Michael Kavouklis and John Moser competing for the right to challenge incumbent Democrat Harry Lee Coe III in the general election.

If anything, the roster of candidates was pumped up because there were so many judicial races on the ballot. This year, 28 judicial seats were up for grabs _ several times the number in 1992.

"It just so happens that a lot of (judicial) terms were ending, and we got one new seat," Deputy Supervisor of Elections Kay Menzel said.

As usual, the deadline brought a mix of last-minute speculation and pre-game jitters.

In the office of Hillsborough Chief Circuit Judge F. Dennis Alvarez, incumbent judges up for re-election had assembled late Friday morning for some collective nail-biting.

Rumors had surfaced that someone might face last-minute opposition. Six years earlier, when many of the same crowd gathered in the same office over chicken and yellow rice, the call came at 11:55 a.m. announcing that Gasper Ficarrotta would have to fight to retain his seat. (He did.)

Friday, between rushing around to set out platters of ziti and salad, Alvarez was seated at his computer and on the Internet, getting last-minute updates on who had qualified. As the noon deadline grew near, judges clustered behind his chair to peer at the screen _ Ficarrotta close at his right elbow.

There were jokes, and some laughter, but it was the nervous kind.

"Hey, Jeb Bush is in your race," Alvarez joked over his shoulder to Greg Holder, who within moments would sail unopposed into a circuit judge seat.

By noon, there were officially no surprises, and much brow-wiping, backslapping and handshaking. All the incumbent judges up for re-election had retained their seats without opposition, and County Judge Holder and former County Judge Dan Perry will both be circuit judges in January.