A challenge to Sheriff Everett Rice from a political newcomer made only a small dent in the Republican incumbent's widespread support Tuesday, as he won a third term by a landslide.
"I'm absolutely looking forward to the next four years," said Rice, who defeated Democrat Georgia Palmer. "I'm optimistic. I see a reduction in crime, and I think we're getting a handle on it."
Though he won by a comfortable margin, Rice wasn't taking the win for granted. He used up almost all of the $97,000 in campaign contributions he raised, outspending Palmer 5-1 and saturating the county with campaign signs.
"I raised half what I raised in the last two elections," said Rice, 52, who in 1988 defeated two-term incumbent Gerry Coleman. "And the money came in without even asking for it."
Palmer, who quit her job as a psychiatrist for the Pinellas County court system to run, blamed Rice for what she said was low morale among sheriff's deputies.
She also said Rice is responsible for problems with health care at the county jail. On his watch, there have been three questionable deaths at the jail that later were attributed to inadequate response by health care providers.
"I just don't think a lot of people know how bad things are," said Palmer, 56. She said she'll run again.
Rice's challenges in the next four years will include replacing EMSA Correctional Care, the jail health care provider, when it departs in February, and overseeing the completion of a $30-million, 800-bed jail expansion project that will help alleviate overcrowding.
He could also see his law enforcement duties expand, if more small Pinellas towns follow Dunedin's lead and merge their police departments with the Sheriff's Office.