The Pinellas County School Board lost one incumbent during Tuesday's primary election, while two other races will be decided in runoff contests in November.
Ken Peluso, 59, narrowly lost his District 4 seat to 55-year-old Eileen Long, a veteran teacher. Long earned 51.1 percent of the vote, while Peluso earned 48.9 percent, according to preliminary results.
Long said she was nervous about the close race but excited. She said she kept looking away from the results at a watch party at the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association headquarters in Largo.
"It's not just me running," she said amid cheers. "It's all of us. And we're working as a team to win. I'm still going to be Eileen tomorrow when I wake up. The title means nothing."
The president of the teachers union, Mike Gandolfo, had sent out a scathing letter urging teachers to vote against Peluso. Gandolfo said Peluso had let teachers down.
After a long, rainy day visiting polling places, Peluso said he had "no earthly idea" why he lost. He said he worked hard to win re-election and "there's nothing more I could have done."
Peluso was a relatively new member of the board, having been elected in 2014 after Robin Wikle resigned. With Peluso's loss, the School Board will have at least two new faces.
Carol Cook, 64, who is seeking her fifth term in office, earned 48 percent of the District 5 vote, but that wasn't enough to avoid a runoff race with Eliseo Santana in November. Santana, 58, a retired communication maintenance supervisor, earned 26 percent, while Mike Petruccelli, 70, an insurance agent and real estate broker, earned 25 percent. Cook had to get a majority of votes to avoid a runoff.
Cook called Santana a "formidable" candidate Tuesday night, but added: "I'm going to win it."
Santana, a political newcomer, will face an uphill battle against an incumbent who has name recognition and has raised more money. But Santana said it works in his favor that the majority of voters didn't vote for Cook.
"The majority of people voted against the establishment, the status quo," he said, adding that the only reason Cook didn't lose was because it was a three-way race.
District 1, a countywide seat, was the most competitive race with four candidates and no incumbent, since board member Janet Clark decided not to seek a fourth term. Joanne Lentino, a 67-year-old retired Gulfport Elementary teacher, and Matt Stewart, a 36-year-old St. Petersburg College adjunct professor and a deputy director at the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office, will meet in a runoff in November.
Lentino received 32 percent of the vote to Stewart's 30 percent. Stewart said he expected to make the runoff election despite the field of four.
"I think one of the main things is that I'm a parent," Stewart said. "And I think that resonates with people as there are no parents (of current students) on the School Board."
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Lentino and Santana also spent election night at the teachers union headquarters. All three candidates had been endorsed by the union.
"I'm going to go away for two days, and I'm going to do it all over," Lentino said. "And do it bigger and better."
Bill Dudley, a 72-year-old former St. Petersburg City Council member and retired Northeast High teacher and coach, came in third in the race, with 29 percent of the vote. Robert Beal, a 46-year-old St. Petersburg College student and a father advocating for his special needs daughter, received 8 percent, according to preliminary results.
In the non-partisan races, the candidates raised more than $150,000. Peluso, a retired chiropractor, raised the most of all, with $33,000.
District 4 encompasses parts of Palm Harbor, East Lake and Tarpon Springs. District 5 includes parts of Clearwater and Largo.
Contact Colleen Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright on Twitter.