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WHITE FOE DOWNPLAYS TIMING

A challenger says she won't focus on the commissioner's troubles.

The timing seemed perfect.

With nearly daily headlines about the verdict in Kevin White's sexual discrimination trial and the county's obligation to pay attorney fees in the case, political newcomer Valerie Goddard announced last week that she will challenge White for his County Commission seat in 2010.

But Goddard, 44, says she won't make an issue of White's legal troubles.

"That's not the focus of my campaign," she said. "That had nothing to do with my choice to serve."

And as for the timing of her announcement?

"Timing is just one of those funny things that we can't control," Goddard said. "We thought it was important to let the citizens know that there was someone else who was listening and they were going to have another option for District 3."

Goddard said people have encouraged her to seek elected office for years. She is president and chief executive officer of a consulting firm and chairman of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County.

"Of late, those requests intensified," she said. "I hear people saying that they're excited. They're excited that there's a fresh new alternative in the campaign. People think maybe I have the skills to represent them in a way that they'll be proud of."

Goddard declined to comment much on White's sexual discrimination case.

"What I find sometimes that can be somewhat unfortunate is the impact this has on taxpayers. Because of the times we're in and the economic downturn, families are really experiencing hardships. And that gets lost in the shuffle," she said. "It's important for all of us to be mindful in whatever capacity we serve that families are depending on us to stay focused on the issues that are important."

Similarly, Les Miller, who will face White and Goddard in the Democratic primary for the District 3 seat, said he has no plans to build a campaign around White's missteps.

But he said he is prepared to fight back if White attacks him.

"If that happens, then the gloves are off. I can tell you that," he said.

White's commission district covers much of central and east Tampa. He could not be reached by phone for comment Wednesday.

Miller said he would prefer to have spirited debates with his opponents on the issues, a sentiment Goddard echoed.

Goddard offered few specifics, but she said her top priorities as a county commissioner would be economic development and increasing community involvement in county decision-making.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

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