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Runoff election near guarantee in neck-and-neck board races // SCHOOL BOARD

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Two Hillsborough School Board members were stunned Tuesday as little-known challengers forced them into unexpected runoff races. In the only racefor an open seat, three of the nine candidates were still locked in a struggle for two spots in the Oct. 1 runoff.

With more than half the precincts counted, two-term District 1 incumbent Glenn Barrington held a slim lead over 19-year-old Mike Wallace Jr., who graduated just months ago from Hillsborough High School. Wallace held an even smaller lead over Sherrie Kaw, 34, a Hunter's Green homemaker.

Barrington, 72, said he was surprised to be headed for a runoff.

"How do you get people in a race that have no knowledge of the issues and yet they get in a runoff?" Barrington said disdainfully. "I have no idea."

Barrington said his opponents "don't have a clue. Maybe the public thinks they do." District 1 includes Cross Creek, Pebble Creek, Hunter's Green, much of north Tampa and Seffner.

Wallace, now a political science student at Hillsborough Community College, missed several candidate forums during the campaign and relied heavily on his pledge to be "a voice for the students."

The voters, he said, "want to see someone that can relate to the students, not someone that is out of touch . . . If it does go to a runoff, I feel that most of Sherrie's voters will go my way because those people want to see a change, also."

Leading the crowded, nine-candidate District 3 race late Tuesday was Sharon Danaher, who was running slightly ahead of Susan Valdes, 31, an insurance coordinator.

Valdes was running a close race for second with Anita Evans, an automotive consultant.

"It's a surprise right now, how the vote is going," Danaher said. "We thought the leaders would be Steve Henry and Jerry Greene, and they're not even near the top yet."

The one who was near the top was shocked. "I'm speechless," said Valdes. "It's overwhelming, it really is. The way I've conducted this race with no money. It's been very laborious, just walking, talking, meeting people and just being myself."

Henry, 46, a teacher endorsed by the teacher's union, was running seventh in the field of nine. Greene, 47, a veterinarian from Lutz, was in eighth place and at a loss for explanations.

"I have no idea how to explain this vote that I'm seeing here," Greene said, noting that many opponents had not attended candidate forums. "We just walked every area we possibly could. We were out virtually every night for the last four weeks, from Brandon to Lutz and everything in between."

Evans, 42, was a close third. She credited her endorsement from the New Tampa Citizens Coalition as "very significant."

"It's interesting," Evans said, not yet knowing if votes from New Tampa neighborhoods had been tallied. "Thirty days ago they didn't even know who Anita Evans was."

In District 7, an at-large seat, one-term incumbent Carol Kurdell held a slim lead over challenger Bonnie O'Brien, a 31-year teacher in the Hillsborough schools. O'Brien surpassed a third candidate, Aron Zions, 35, by a more than 2-1 margin.

"There is a definite anti-incumbent feeling that shows across the board if the numbers are right," said Kurdell, adding that she was not surprised to be headed for a runoff.

O'Brien, 53, was celebrating late Tuesday at a sports bar on Hillsborough Avenue. She said her support among teachers and the parents of former students aided her quest for the District 7 seat.

"I knew I had the teachers behind me, I knew I had a lot of support. I'm just so excited that the people have voted this way," O'Brien said.

"Throughout your life you wonder, "Did I ever do anything?' . . . this experience, win, lose or draw, it just makes me proud."