Republican state Rep. Kathleen Peters cruised to victory in a three-way contest in the lone contested race for the Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday.
Unofficial results show that Peters of South Pasadena won 48 percent of the vote compared to 36 percent for state Rep. Larry Ahern of Seminole and 16 percent for Barb Haselden, an activist from St. Petersburg.
Peters will now battle Democrat Amy Kedron, a political newcomer, for the District 6 seat that longtime Commissioner John Morroni held since 2000. He died in May.
"I had good opponents who care about Pinellas County," Peters said at her victory celebration. "I'm a happy girl."
Two other commissioners, Pat Gerard, a Democrat, and Dave Eggers, a Republican, drew no challengers for their seats.
Nearly 31 percent of voters cast ballots in Pinellas County, up from 28 percent in 2016.
District 6 generally includes Pinellas Park, Seminole, northeast St. Petersburg and the south beaches. Last month, Gov. Rick Scott appointed real estate investor and former Redington Shores Mayor Jay Beyrouti to fill the vacancy.
Peters said she is committed to winning in November so she can help improve treatment options for mental-health and addiction at the county level. Improving treatment at the local level will help raise awareness to the problem and change the services at the state level.
As a seasoned campaigner, Peters raised $160,000 in donations for the primary. Still, she said she will not take any opponent for granted. She also plans to target voters who did not support her Tuesday.
"I'm going to campaign even harder," she said. "People care about what happens locally. I finally have a chance to make a difference."
Peters, a former mayor of South Pasadena, was first elected to the state House in 2012 and has two more years before she would have to leave due to term limits. Her dislike of partisan politics in Tallahassee has put her at odds with the House Republican leadership.
In the House, Peters became an authority on mental health issues by visiting prisons, mental hospitals and judges. She said that resonates with voters because so many families struggle with those issues.
Peters has confronted thorny local concerns. She helped pass legislation to reform the Pinellas Construction Licensing Board after a Tampa Bay Times' investigation exposed the lack of oversight.
When St. Petersburg failed to properly notify residents of spills of partially treated sewage, Peters helped pass legislation that now requires the public to be notified within 24 hours of a discharge.
Kedron had told the Tampa Bay Times that she was not worried about facing a veteran politician. She also said she believed her business background would appeal to voters in November.
She did not return multiple calls on Tuesday to discuss her campaign strategy for November.
Hallmarks of her campaign are to develop pedestrian-friendly streets, help create more jobs and expand small businesses. She also wants increased support for veterans and to ensure that the county maintains healthy water and beaches.
Kedron, a Buffalo native who lives in Madeira Beach, earned law and doctoral degrees at the University of Buffalo but said she has never taken a bar exam in Florida to work as an attorney. She had spent years working on social, economic, and environmental issues around the Buffalo business community.
She moved to Florida in 2010 to work as a professor at USF St. Petersburg and Ringling College of Art and Design. During her time in Florida, she has faced two cancer battles.
Since declaring her candidacy, Kedron has raised about $28,000 for the contest. While she is currently unemployed, Kedron declared a negative net worth of $278,358 as of December 2017, according to campaign filings.
Earlier this month, the Times reported that Kedron faced accusations of physical abuse and stalking from her former fiance, who twice sought court-ordered protection from her. Both allegations came after she filed to run for office in May, records show.
Kedron denied the accusations.
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