TAMPA — None of Hillsborough County’s incumbent School Board members won re-election outright on Tuesday, or even finished as a front-runner, with all four races headed to runoff elections on Nov. 3.
With all precincts counted, building industry executive Steve Cona III was behind tutoring service operator Nadia Combs in Northwest District 1. Neither candidate in the field of four had enough votes to seal the result.
In District 3, which became an open seat when Cindy Stuart pursued the Clerk of Court position, substitute teacher Jessica Vaughn was nearly even with public accountant Mitchell Thrower, with the other four in that field trailing behind.
“I’m tired, is how I am,” Vaughn said. “We left it all on the field.” But she said she looks forward to the next several months, even though campaigning in a pandemic comes with challenges.
Thrower, similarly, said it is hard to get his face before the voters in a time of social distancing. “This being my first race, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I was humbled by the support and I’m excited to start preparing for the general election.”
A possible upset was brewing in central Tampa’s District 5, where former school administrator Henry “Shake” Washington had a comfortable lead over incumbent Tamara Shamburger, with neither capturing half the vote.
And Lynn Gray’s at-large District 7 seat also appeared up for grabs, with Sally Harris — a former School Board member — edging past Gray, and reading specialist Angela Schroden close behind.
By evening’s end, it appeared nearly certain that Gray and Harris will continue on to the runoff.
“I’m really feeling good,” said Harris, who runs a child care center in South Tampa and represented that district on the board from 2014 to 2018. “I’m excited. I am charged. I want this very badly.”
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It has been a difficult campaign season for all three incumbents, with no shortage of controversy as the schools prepare to reopen during a pandemic.
The nation’s seventh-largest school district is also adjusting to its new superintendent, Addison Davis. He took over as acting superintendent on March 23, the same day Hillsborough shifted to distance learning as the state prepared to shut down all schools.
Those developments affected each race differently.
Cona was a strong advocate of Davis before the board hired him, and fashioned himself as a spokesman for the new administration. Shamburger established herself as a voice for diversity and, more recently, the desire by many to keep schools closed until the coronavirus threat subsides. All board members, including Gray, came under pressure in the divisive politics that surrounded the school reopening issue.
Combs, who finished ahead of Cona, said she was especially encouraged because she spent $7,000 to Cona’s $76,000.
“Mine was grassroots,” she said. “I feel really humbled and so excited about this, and I’m ready to start pushing towards November.”