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Ruling might push some into politics

Some local candidates' bids depend on the outcome of a court challenge to term limits.

Republicans Tony DiMatteo and Dan Curran, like scores of other aspiring legislators, are playing a waiting game.

DiMatteo, who owns a pest control business, and Curran, an American Airlines pilot, have filed to run for the District 54 state House seat now occupied by state Rep. Dennis Jones, a Treasure Island Republican who has held the seat since 1978.

But whether DiMatteo and Curran actually run for the seat will depend on whether the Florida Supreme Court upholds the term limits for state legislators. A decision is expected this fall.

If the term limits stand, Jones must step down. If the court finds the term limits are unconstitutional, Jones has said he will run again. And in that case, DiMatteo and Curran both say they will step aside.

"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."

With the 2000 election more than a year away, several local politicians and aspiring ones are jockeying for new jobs. The biggest scramble is to replace the three state legislators who will be forced out if the term limits stand. Jones, Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg, and John Morroni, R-Clearwater, all are out pending the Supreme Court decision.

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.

Another potential candidate is St. Petersburg City Council member Robert Kersteen, interviewed last week by state Republican Party officials.

Kersteen could not be reached for comment.

While several candidates are waiting for the Supreme Court ruling, Morroni has said he is keeping his promise to serve only eight years regardless of the court decision.

But Morroni will run in next year's election as a countywide candidate.

But for which position and against whom? Morroni 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," Morroni said. "Currently, I haven't made a decision. I'll probably make an announcement after Labor Day."

Former Largo city Commissioner Ernest "Ernie" Bach, who lost a bid for a state House seat last fall, has 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's probably running for Morroni's seat. ". . . I'll probably make an announcement next month," Hooper said.

If Hooper runs, he could face 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.

Paul Bedinghaus, chairman of the county's Republican Party, says he expects most candidates to make announcements in the next month. To make a legitimate run, a candidate should have about $50,000 in the bank by the end of the year, said Bedinghaus. To hit that goal, candidates will need to be in the race soon, he said.