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COUNTY COMMISSION // Platt, Harvey lead Democratic fields

Jan Platt, who epitomized squeaky-clean politics during some of the county's darkest days, and Perry Harvey, who survived federal indictment to reclaim his job as city lawmaker, held big leads Tuesday in races for the Hillsborough County Commission.

With more than half the precincts reporting, Platt held a clear majority in the Democratic race in District 6 against former colleague and ex-convict Joe Kotvas and former Department of Corrections administrator Frank Reddick.

Known for her unyielding attitude in favor of open government, Platt, 59, is a 16-year commission veteran seeking a return to office after two years off and a drubbing in the Tampa mayoral race by Dick Greco.

"It's obvious the public wants me back," said Platt as she hugged a volunteer in a "Jan Platt" T-shirt at the Latam Restaurant Tuesday. "This election affirms public office is indeed a public trust."

Platt will face the winner of the five-candidate Republican primary, where the leading vote-getters late Tuesday were John Thibodeau, 56, who retired from the construction business and finished third in a race for the County Commission in 1994, and former Tampa City Council member Larry Smith, 48, the owner of a South Tampa equipment-rental business.

The District 6 seat, elected countywide, drew the crowded field after term limits forced the retirement of Phyllis Busansky, who turned her attention to an open congressional seat.

The District 3 commission seat was put up for by grabs by the retirement of incumbent Sandra Wilson. Five Democrats, all African-Americans, are vying for the right to face Republican Barbara Merritt, a civic activist and longtime Florida State Fair watchdog, who was unopposed.

Harvey, 65, the owner of a pharmacy in College Hill, had a big lead over Betty Reed, 55, an administrator at Tampa Technical Institute, and Thomas Scott, 42, a pastor and Christian school principal.

A majority win looked unlikely for Harvey, and the contest between Reed and Scott for the second spot in the two-person Oct. 1 runoff was too close to call.

President of the International Longshoremen's local in Tampa, Harvey was suspended from his council position after being indicted in 1991 on federal charges of embezzling from the union. He was acquitted of all charges and returned to complete his council term.

In his commission campaign, Harvey pledged the same kind of advocacy he preached for his inner-city constituents while serving on the Tampa City Council.

"There's a whole lot of people out there that want to be represented," said Harvey as he conferred with his son, Kermit, Tuesday night in a quiet corner of the American Rental Hall. "I'm the new voice, the voice of the less affluent."

Kotvas in District 6 drew more raised eyebrows in this year's local elections than any other candidate. Now an X-ray technician at Tampa General Hospital, Kotvas was one of three commissioners hauled away in handcuffs and charged with bribery in 1983.

Kotvas was convicted and spent five years in prison, but had his civil rights restored after being released in 1990. Kotvas has claimed in his campaign that his time behind bars gave him special insights into the workings of government. Thousands of voters apparently believed him.

Tuesday, above the din of a heavy metal band at the Silver Ring Cafe in Ybor City, Kotvas said he had "absolutely no regrets."

"Some people may have given up on Joe Kotvas," he said. "But Joe Kotvas hasn't given up on Tampa."