Sheriff Lee Cannon easily defeated his Republican challenger, former Sheriff Jim Gillum, on Tuesday night, securing his second term as Pasco County's top law enforcement officer.
Cannon, a Democrat who took office in 1993, celebrated with friends and family at the Pure Country Dance Hall on U.S. 19 in New Port Richey.
Tuesday's vote brings to an end a campaign filled with stinging criticism of Cannon by opponents from both parties over his management of the agency's nearly $37-million budget and 800-plus employees.
Reached at Spartan Manor in New Port Richey, Gillum, Cannon's most vocal critic, said there was much more at stake than voters might have realized.
"Regardless of what the voters decide about me, the dope is still out there, the hookers are working the streets and the porn stores are popping up all over this place," Gillum said as he watched the results come in.
"I'm not overjoyed with what I've seen so far, but it ain't over till it's over," he said. "If voters got our message and don't want Jim Gillum, then so be it. But may God have mercy on those people who still have to work there."
Despite the attacks from Gillum, Cannon, a former Tampa police officer and state prosecutor, refused to launch a counterattack on Gillum, a two-term sheriff who hired Cannon as his chief legal counsel in 1990.
Instead, Cannon said he chose to run a positive campaign based on what he said was a successful, though at times tumultuous, first four years in office.
Specifically, Cannon said the Sheriff's Office now has training programs for its officers superior to what it had four years ago. Hiring standards are higher, and working conditions are better, he said.
From the public's perspective, he said programs for juveniles are tougher and more effective. Diversion programs for youths who commit petty crimes have helped curb recidivism. And a tougher program is in place for habitual offenders sentenced to house arrest or community control.
Gillum criticized Cannon's failure to put more deputies on the road and what he said was an unfair distribution of salary increases to high-ranking officers at the expense of deputies.
Further, he said he would be able to put more deputies on the road without a budget increase simply by shuffling personnel and, possibly, eliminating some positions.
A two-term Republican sheriff, Gillum generated a steady stream of controversy from 1984 until his crushing defeat in the GOP primary in 1992.
He ultimately blamed his downfall not on the perceived failings of his administration but on unfavorable coverage by the press.
Gillum secured the Republican nomination and avoided a runoff when fellow Republican Ken Tallier abruptly dropped out of the race after the publication of damaging statements he made during two polygraph exams.
Despite his contention that he had strong support from the public, Gillum raised little more than a third of the campaign funds that Cannon did.
As of Oct. 31, Cannon had collected more than $118,000 in monetary and in-kind contributions. Gillum had about $43,600.