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Politicos start jostling for 2004

All that's left of the 2002 election are memories of too many TV spots and a heap of fading campaign signs.

So on to 2004.

Sure it's two years away, but Pinellas County politicos are already buzzing about who's going to run for top county spots.

Four County Commission seats and the county's constitutional offices will be up for grabs. And with incumbents likely to walk away from at least one commission seat and two constitutional offices, potential candidates already are lining up.

The race generating the most activity is the clerk of court's race. With longtime clerk Karleen DeBlaker planning to step down, several well-known officials are eyeing the seat.

Those include Barbara Sheen Todd, County Commission chairman, and Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst. Court administrator Bill Lockhart also is considering the seat, and Seminole resident Ken Burke, a former "Mr. Seminole" who is legal administrator at the DeLoach and Hofstra law firm, is said to be a possible candidate.

But neither Todd, Aungst nor Lockhart has made a decision. Aungst said Friday he's looking at several options, including the County Commission and state seats. He plans to meet soon with a group of supporters to help decide. But the clerk's seat sounds like it fits Aungst's interests.

"I'm an executive at heart," Aungst said. "To be the boss of the organization is appealing to me."

Aungst's term as mayor isn't up until March 2005. But he pointed out that if he waits until then, he'll miss out on the election cycle.

Todd said Friday she is considering the clerk's race, but she hasn't made any decisions. Nor has she ruled out running again for the commission seat she now holds, but it's unlikely.

Lockhart said he wants to make sure someone with strong court and/or management background runs for clerk. With almost 30 years of experience as an administrator here in the 6th Circuit and in the state Supreme Court, Lockhart figures he fits the bill.

But he's never run for political office, and doesn't relish the idea of raising the $100,000 he's been told he would need for a countywide bid.

"The idea I could run for office and be elected is a very crazy idea," Lockhart confessed. "I have no political experience."

Clearwater lawyer Ed Armstrong, known as a Republican power broker, said Lockhart has a point. He said Lockhart is "pretty well known" in the court system, but would start at a disadvantage against a prominent elected official, such as Todd.

But who knows? At this point, nothing's etched in stone. Todd joked that she doesn't "even want to think about" her plans for 2004.

Others also said it's too early to make plans.

"We just had an election," said Paul Bedinghaus, chairman of the county's Republican party. "I've still got the adrenaline from that."

"It takes people a little time," said Clearwater political consultant Jack Hebert. "There's a decompression period after every election."

Unless you're Jim Coats, chief deputy in the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Coats opened his campaign bank account in February 2001 to run to succeed his boss, Sheriff Everett Rice. Seminole resident Timothy Glassburner, a former Ohio deputy sheriff, also is running for the seat.

Clearwater Police Chief Sid Klein has been talked about as a possible candidate. But police spokesman Wayne Shelor said Friday that Klein "has absolutely no plans" to run for office.

Maybe not. But in January, Klein showed up at a seminar that offered tips to aspiring politicians.

Other constitutional officers are expected to run again. Property Appraiser Jim Smith had talked of running for the clerk's seat, but that was before the Florida Supreme Court threw out term limits on the county's constitutional officers. Smith said Friday he plans to run again for property appraiser.

With Todd likely to step down, politicos are talking about several possible candidates for the District 1 seat she holds. The candidate must live in that district, which runs from East Lake through Seminole, but all county residents can vote in the race.

Safety Harbor Mayor Pam Corbino said Friday she's considering whether to run for the seat.

"It all depends on whether it's an open seat," she said.

Seminole Mayor Dottie Reeder also has talked about running for the seat. And Redington Shores Mayor J.J. Beyrouti is said to be weighing a bid, but neither could be reached Friday.

Two other commissioners up for re-election in 2004, Ken Welch and Karen Seel, both say they plan to run again. Republican Vincent K. Hopkins, who recently lost to Frank Peterman in the race for state House District 55, has said he plans to run against Welch.

The final commissioner, Bob Stewart, would have had to leave office because of term limits in 2004. But the same court decision has thrown term limits for the commissioners into question. A legal ruling on whether their term limits still apply is pending. Stewart couldn't be reached Friday.

READY TO RUN?

Brian Aungst, right, and Barbara Sheen Todd, center, are eyeing the clerk of court's position, though neither has made a decision. Aungst's term as mayor isn't up until March 2005. But he pointed out that if he waits until then, he'll miss the election cycle. Todd said Friday shshe is considering the clerk's race. Nor has she ruled out running again for the commission seat she now holds. Seminole Mayor Dottie Reeder, right, may run for County sion.

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