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WHITE BLAMES JURY AND MEDIA

The Hillsborough commissioner says he won't quit now and will run again in 2010.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White said Thursday that he won't resign and blamed some of his troubles on unfair media coverage and a misguided jury.

"I believe the great majority of people that are asking for (my resignation) don't have all the facts," he said.

White became a lightning rod for critics after a federal court jury last month awarded his former aide $75,000 in a sexual discrimination case.

While the County Commission grapples with a nearly $500,000 legal bill from White's trial and newspaper editorial boards call for his resignation, White insists he'll finish his first term and seek re-election.

In a wide-ranging interview, White apologized for any costs taxpayers will incur and called some of his decisions regarding former aide Alyssa Ogden "stupid."

He stopped short of admitting that he discriminated against Ogden.

"It's an incident that probably should have never occurred," White said. "Error in judgment? Guilty as charged. Harassment? Not at all."

At trial, Ogden said she rebuffed repeated sexual advances from White and was fired because she didn't give in. White denied that, saying he fired her for incompetence.

At the core of the case was a 2007 trip to Atlanta involving White, Ogden and Blythe Andrews, publisher of the Florida-Sentinel Bulletin newspaper that serves Tampa's African-American community.

Ogden claimed White tried to share her hotel bed in Atlanta. White said Thursday that Ogden, then 22, traveled on her own volition not to be a companion for him, but for Andrews, who is 78 and married. Both Ogden and Andrews denied White's claims.

"I realize now that I could have said no, or I could have removed myself from the situation," White said. "But I didn't think I had the right to tell her what she could do on her own time."

White added that he believes jurors didn't base their decision on the evidence presented.

Ogden's attorney, Ron Fraley, declined to comment in detail because negotiations with the county regarding his legal fees are ongoing. Of White's statement Thursday, he said, "Facts taken out of context can be misleading."

White wouldn't say whether he would pay some or all of the county's legal costs. The county, he noted, frequently litigates expensive cases that attract less attention.

"We've had others that have cost us this much or even more," White said. "That's not to diminish or deflect anything off of me, but people who know me and know my character still believe in me."

Asked if he regrets not settling the case before trial, White said he had mixed emotions.

"If we had settled, my legal fees would have been paid. But then, you face that cloud from the public (that)you admitted some portion of guilt by settling."

Despite losing the case and admitting to errors in judgment, White remains confident he can win re-election. Former state Sen. Les Miller and county Children's Board chairwoman Valerie Hubbard-Goddard have said they're running against him.

White's supporters believe he has been treated unfairly by the media, which he said always mention past mistakes such as illegally spending $6,100 in campaign funds on clothes.

"People know about those things. I think they're just interested in what we're talking about now.

"But I guess that's the media's job to remind and repeat."

White also said he maintains support through his constituent work and focus on issues. At the moment, that includes trying to find an alternate site for a controversial homeless shelter, he added.

The voters, White said, will ultimately decide if he deserves redemption.

"The mistakes of the nature I've made probably happen every day in life, but they're not as widely publicized," White said. "Since it is, I will own up to the mistake ... and I will make every attempt to make sure that mistake never happens again.

"I'm not stopping because I have too many people depending on me."

Ernest Hooper can be reached at hooper@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3406.

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