Two incumbents staved off challengers in runoff races Tuesday for re-election to the Hillsborough County School Board. In a third runoff with no incumbent, a longtime school volunteer beat her opponent by an even wider margin.
In the most-watched race, District 1, 19-year-old Mike Wallace Jr. challenged two-term incumbent Glenn Barrington, a veteran teacher and administrator almost four times Wallace's age. District 1 includes Cross Creek, Pebble Creek, Hunter's Green, much of north Tampa and Seffner.
Late Tuesday, Barrington disposed of his young opponent by a healthy margin.
"I think it's in the bag," said Barrington, 73.
"I just think we did what we had to do. We smoked him out. We proved that he was a ghost candidate and was just relying on a name and signs," Barrington said. "Thank God the voters recognized that for what it was."
Wallace, who graduated from Hillsborough High School last year, came within 281 votes of Barrington in the primary. Since then, Barrington has charged that Wallace's support came mainly from voters who confused him with the television journalist of the same name or with state House candidate Rob Wallace.
Wallace countered that forums don't reach as many voters as campaign signs or media exposure. His father, Mike Wallace Sr., ran against Barrington in 1992 and earned 46 percent of the vote to Barrington's 53 percent.
As the margin widened between Wallace and Barrington on Tuesday, Wallace refused to concede until all the votes were in.
"It was in the voters' hands today, and we're just waiting to see what it's going to turn out to be," said Wallace, who withdrew from Hillsborough Community College to run for office.
Regardless of the outcome, his campaign was proof of his belief that "there needs to be more youth involved in politics, and we need to step up to the plate and have a say in our future," Wallace said.
If he had won, Wallace would have been the second-youngest School Board member elected in the state. In the early 1980s, an 18-year-old woman served three years on the Pasco County School Board, according to the Florida School Boards Association.
Another incumbent, Carol Kurdell, also weathered a challenge to her District 7 seat from teacher Bonnie O'Brien, 53. Late Tuesday, Kurdell held a substantial lead over O'Brien, who teaches at an alternative education center in Hillsborough.
"I'm thrilled, absolutely thrilled," said Kurdell, 51, adding that she wouldn't start celebrating until all votes were counted.
Kurdell attributed her lead late Tuesday to her "commitment to children" and "excellent record from the last four years for fiscal responsibility . . . and pushing for change."
In District 3, Sharon Danaher maintained a steady lead over Susan Valdes, an insurance coordinator, all night. But even with a majority of the precincts reporting, Danaher hesitated to claim victory.
"I'm not sure what precincts they've counted. We still have some very, very strong precincts that could come in either way," said Danaher, 47, adding she wasn't watching televised reports on the vote because it was too "nerve-racking."
In the primary, Danaher and Valdes emerged from a field of nine candidates who rushed to fill the seat Yvonne McKitrick will vacate in November. District 3 includes Carrollwood, Citrus Park, Keystone, Lutz, Northdale, Odessa, Tampa Palms and Westchase.
While Danaher campaigned on her history of involvement at the task force and committee level within the schools, Valdes emphasized her one-on-one contact with children as PTA president at Alexander Elementary.
A Carrollwood homemaker, Danaher was favored from the start and won 18 percent of the primary vote; Valdes, from Pinecrest Manor, was not considered a strong contender before the primary and barely edged a third candidate, Anita Evans, to make the runoff.