Hillsborough voters assembled a new Democratic majority for the County Commission on Tuesday by returning commission veterans Jan Platt and Ed Turanchik to office and electing newcomer Thomas Scott.
Gathering the most votes was Platt, the famously proper Democratic maverick whose 16-year service on the County Commission ended two years ago because of term limits.
Platt defeated Republican Larry Smith, completing her emergence from retirement and giving her the countywide District 6 seat vacated by Democratic Commissioner Phyllis Busansky.
Although she wouldn't claim victory until all the votes were counted, Platt, 60, said her lead left her feeling "honored the voters want me back in office."
"I take it as a great challenge and commitment," Platt said at Carlino's Restaurant on Bayshore Boulevard, where her supporters picked at fruit and cheese plates and sipped white wine. "I look forward to serving the public during the next four years."
Smith was not willing to concede late Tuesday, saying he was awaiting suburban returns "on pins and needles."
Democrat Turanchik, the only incumbent commissioner on the ballot, fought off a challenge by Lunelle Siegel, who was recruited to run by local Republican leaders. Siegel whacked at Turanchik for his advocacy of a countywide rail system. But in claiming victory, Turanchik said Siegel's tactics backfired on her.
Siegel "ran a negative campaign," said Turanchik, a 40-year-old labor lawyer who represents the District 1 communities of Town 'N Country and South Tampa. "We stayed on the issues, and it looks like that's what the people wanted."
Turanchik discounted the large number of votes Siegel amassed in spite of his six-year incumbency, fund-raising advantage and name recognition.
"Anything can happen in an election year," Turanchik said. Siegel could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
The third winner was Scott, also a Democrat. He prevailed in District 3, which extends from inner-city Tampa to suburban Seffner.
As he celebrated with about 60 supporters in the fellowship hall of the 34th Street Church of God where he is senior pastor, Scott saw early returns establish a 2-to-1 lead over civic activist Barbara Merritt.
"I'm very jubilant right now," Scott said. "It's going to hold. A lead like this is going to stand."
And for Scott, the election went just as he planned.
"From the very beginning, my prediction was that it was going to be a runoff between Harvey and myself and then I would go on to win the General Election," he said.
The runoff with Harvey, president of the local longshoreman's union and a former member of the Tampa City Council, was the toughest part of the contest for Scott.
Tuesday's results preserve the 4-3 Democratic majority on the commission. All three seats now held by Republicans will come up for election in two years.
In coming months commissioners are scheduled to discuss how they might extend the half-cent sales tax for indigent health care, which is due to expire in 1998. Tuesday's results seem to guarantee a majority of commissioners in favor of extending the tax by one means or another.
No race attracted more candidates than the countywide one to succeed Busansky, who was pushed out because of term limits.
Platt cruised to an outright victory in the Democratic primary. But Smith finished second in the five-person Republican primary, behind hard-campaigning retired builder John Thibodeau. Smith came from behind to beat Thibodeau in the runoff last month.
Turanchik, an incumbent now elected to his last term because of term limits, says he will continue his work on long-range issues such as the water supply and transportation planning _ including buses, highways, trolleys and rail.
Turanchik raised more than $100,000, more than any other county commissioner this year. His backers include such unlikely bedfellows as developers and environmentalists.