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As election smoke clears, incumbents still in charge

(ran Beach edition)

Mayor Tom DeCesare, Commissioner Roger Koske and Commissioner Charles Parker are still in office. They just had to work a lot harder this time to stay there.

The race in Madeira Beach had everything exciting small-town political contests are made of: A divisive referendum. Candidates with long histories in the city. Dueling political action committees.

Yet when the votes were counted, the City Commission and the city charter remained unchanged. In addition to re-electing all three incumbents _ a mayor and two commissioners who didn't face opposition the last time they ran for office _ voters turned down the referendum, which would have switched commission elections to a districtwide voting system. Commissioners are now elected citywide to represent individual districts.

DeCesare, who has been mayor since 1993, won another three-year term, beating Len Piotti, who claimed city government was unresponsive. Koske, first elected four years ago when he beat former Commissioner Tom Saxon, won his third two-year term Tuesday against Saxon's wife, Cindy Saxon.

And Parker, who has been on the City Commission 10 years but never faced opposition until this election season, won his race against businessman Ken Schwartz.

Koske was the most decisive winner, defeating his opponent by 118 votes. He said he's excited about the future of Madeira Beach, particularly the projects made possible by the city's new master plan.

"Everybody and their brother wants to come into Madeira Beach now, and I think what people have to look at is this is a tourist city _ it's not a residential city," Koske said. "The biggest part of the taxes come from the tourists."

The theme of the night was status quo in Madeira Beach, with even Parker _ who was in favor of the referendum and the only candidate elected who was not supported by the city's business community _ returning to the commission.

Parker is often the voice of opposition on the City Commission and has criticized the job performance of City Manager Jim Madden.

The city manager's job now appears safe, as the candidates most likely to side with Parker in reviewing Madden's performance were not elected. Mayoral candidate Piotti and District 3 candidate Saxon, who lost their bids to oust incumbents, pointed to the low morale among city employees that is now leading most employees to unionize.

The business community in Madeira Beach saw much at stake in this election and backed DeCesare, Koske and Schwartz with thousands of dollars. Four of the business people who gave money to those candidates are working on new projects that have not yet been approved.

Another donor is affiliated with the Madeira Bay project, a two-block development that will include a hotel, townhomes, condominiums and commercial space.

In the final days of the campaign, Patricia Hubbard of Hubbard Enterprises launched a political action committee that fought against the referendum that made its way onto the ballot after the residents' group We Vote collected petition signatures.

"We put the rebuttal out there, that this is the other side of this issue, and we did it in a professional manner," said Hubbard, whose group argued that districtwide voting would divide the small city. "And we're very proud of the citizens of Madeira Beach because they recognized that Madeira Beach is one city and will remain one city."

Official voter turnout numbers were not available from the Supervisor of Elections Office late Tuesday. The Madeira Beach race that attracted the most voters was the mayor's race, in which 991 people, or 30.1 percent of the city's 3,211 registered voters.

(Text accompanying chart not provided for the electronic library. Please see microfilm.)