TAMPA — Attorney Todd Marks emerged as the winner of a bitterly fought Republican primary battle for District 7 easily beating local businessman Aakash Patel.
He will face financial planner Kimberly Overman, who handily won a four-way race in the Democratic primary.
The open countywide seat could help determine the political makeup of the commission. Democrats have targeted this seat along with District 5 as they try to overturn the GOP's 5-2 majority on the commission.
Both Marks and Patel expected to be running for Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman's District 1 seat. Murman had filed to run in District 7 and raised almost $180,000 for her bid.
But her surprise announcement in June to stay in her seat created a rare opening and led to a scramble among candidates to jump in.
Throughout the campaign, they both touted their conservative credentials while questioning those of their opponent.
Patel won the fundraising battle, hauling in $421,000 in donations. He outspent Marks, who raised almost $160,000 by four to one but ended up losing.
"I believe it validates our message that we don't want to be the highest taxed county in the state of Florida and it gives me an opportunity to continue to make Hillsborough a great place to live, work and raise a family."
The contest also was marred by dirty tactics, with flyers from political committees and anonymous robocalls.
One flyer from a Miami group urged voters to say no to "Todd 'Marijuana' Mark," and his "liberal friends."
It refers to Marks' previous job helping Cresco Labs, a national medical marijuana company, set up shop in Florida. Marks said said Cresco abandoned the effort because of bureaucratic hurdles.
The same flyer also showed a picture of Marks next to Barack Obama. It turned out to be a wax work figure of the President.
Possibly illegal, anonymous robocalls made over the weekend to Republican voters attempted to tie Patel to the Hillsborough County Young Democrats.
Both candidates have disavowed any ties to the groups making the attacks.
Patel said the attacks against him damaged his chances but said he was proud of the campaign he ran.
"We fought hard against a very negative campaign," he said. "We have to be more effective with how we're spreading our message."
The Democratic campaign was tamer with transportation and prevention of urban sprawl dominating debates.
Overman touted her experience in the finance sector and her work as a volunteer and activism that helped defeat a state plan to widen I-275 through downtown Tampa.
"I've had so many people tell me they believe in me and they know how hard I've worked to get here and that experience matters," she said.
Voters gave Overman a big lead over Sky White, a nurse, and Mark Nash, a former commission legislative aide.
Ray Chiaramonte, who resigned early from his position as executive director of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority to run, trailed in fourth.
That was despite him leading the Democratic field in fundraising with more than $94,000 in donations.
Nash, who has run unsuccessfully twice in the past, raised $89,000. Overman raised $61,000 and White just over $12,000.
Overman said voters would have a clear choice in the general election and that she would be campaigning on her record of civic involvement.
"I have the experience to get the job done as I've been doing as a volunteer," she said. "I have more than rhetoric to run on."
Marks said Overman's support for an upcoming citizen's initiative for a one percent sales tax hike for transportation will be something his campaign will highlight.
"I think she will be all for raising taxes and as a starter that will be a big issue point on the election," he said.
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Contact Christopher O'Donnell at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times