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Candidates waiting to toss in their hats

Term limits could force some state legislators to step down and provide the push for several local hopefuls. No matter what the court rules, State Rep. John Morroni says he is shopping for a new job.

State Rep. John Morroni plans to run in next year's election as a countywide candidate and will likely do so against an incumbent.

But for which position is something Morroni still hasn't decided, though he says he'll probably take on either Tax Collector W. Fred Petty or County Commissioner Karen Seel.

"It's no secret that I'm eyeing a countywide seat," said Morroni, a Clearwater Republican. "Currently, I haven't made a decision. I'll probably make an announcement after Labor Day."

The one sure thing, Morroni says, is he won't run for re-election to his District 50 seat. Morroni is one of several legislators across the state looking for a new job because of term limits that go into effect next year. Though the Florida Supreme Court could still throw out the voter-imposed term limits, Morroni says he will stand by his promise to serve only eight years.

With the 2000 election more than a year away, several local politicians and aspiring pols are jockeying for new jobs.

The biggest scramble is to replace Morroni and two other prospective term-limit victims _ House members Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg, and Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island.

Former Largo City Commissioner Ernest "Ernie" Bach, who lost a bid for a state House seat last fall, has already filed to run for Morroni's seat as an independent.

Clearwater City Commissioner Ed Hooper, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party two years ago, said this week he'll probably run for Morroni's seat as well.

"I'm pretty sure I am. I'll probably make an announcement next month," Hooper said.

If Hooper runs, it could pit him against Kim Berfield, the daughter of two former Clearwater commissioners who has told Republican officials she plans to run for Morroni's seat. Hooper beat Berfield's mother, Sue, in 1996 to win a seat on the Clearwater Commission.

Hooper is one of two local politicians interviewed last week by state Republican officials. Party officials also interviewed St. Petersburg Council member Bob Kersteen, a potential candidate for Hafner's District 53 seat.

While Morroni has said he is stepping down even if the term limits are thrown out, Jones, who has held his seat since 1978, has indicated he will run for re-election if allowed.

That has Republicans Tony DiMatteo and Dan Curran playing a waiting game. Both men have filed to run for Jones' seat, but both say if Jones can run again, they will step aside.

Neither DiMatteo, who owns his own pest control business, nor Curran, an American Airlines pilot, have previous political experience.

"Like they say, "Plan for the worst and hope for the best,' " said DiMatteo, a member of the county's Republican Executive Committee. "If (term limits) are overturned and Dennis is going to stay, it's very foolish, I believe, to face a strong incumbent."

So far, only one candidate has filed for Hafner's District 53 seat. Thomas Robbins, who lost a bid for the School Board last fall, is running as a Republican.