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Harry Cohen wins tight Hillsborough District 1 commission race

Republicans have held the seat for the past 14 years.
Hillsborough County District 1 candidates Harry Cohen, Democrat, left, and Republican Scott Levinson.
Hillsborough County District 1 candidates Harry Cohen, Democrat, left, and Republican Scott Levinson. [ Harry Cohen, Scott Levinson ]
Published Nov. 4, 2020|Updated Nov. 4, 2020

TAMPA — Democrat Harry Cohen won the Hillsborough County Commission District 1 race Tuesday, flipping a seat held by Republicans for the past 14 years.

With all 99 precincts reporting and early and mail ballots counted, Cohen had 50.7 percent of the vote and a slim margin of victory over Republican Scott Levinson.

“I am tremendously grateful to the voters for placing their trust in me to represent their interests and their families on the Hillsborough County Commission," Cohen said in a statement. “After a long and hard-fought campaign, I am eager to get to work on the most pressing issues facing our community by fighting back against the spread of COVID, helping local businesses grow jobs, and planning ahead to responsibly manage population growth.”

"I look forward to working with my colleagues both on the Commission and across all levels of government in order to confront our shared challenges and improve quality of life for all residents of Hillsborough County,” he added.

Levinson, however, wasn’t ready to concede late Tuesday.

“The advice right now is wait,” he said. “We want to get all the provisionals, all the votes counted.”

The campaign became a contest between a neophyte outsider seeking to change what he perceives as dysfunctional local government against a seasoned and well-connected insider who has held elected and appointed government positions during his career.

Cohen, 50, served two terms on the Tampa City Council ending in 2019 and ran unsuccessfully for Tampa mayor. He is the legal counsel for the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank. His campaign stressed that he was the candidate who could offer experience, competency and sound judgement to a community facing serious challenges.

He repeated that theme on Election Day. If successful, Cohen said Tuesday afternoon, “I hope it’s because people voted for someone who they felt they could trust to make good decisions and to act wisely in the face of some pretty severe challenges.”

Levinson, 55, formerly owned a wholesale meat business and now is executive director of a 4,000-member Tampa Bay Youth Football League. He ran, he said, because he experienced the slow pace of government, particularly when he sought field and playground repairs at county parks.

Campaign finance reports showed Cohen, through the primary and general election cycles, had raised 11 times more in contributions than Levinson, who embraced the role of underdog and poked fun at his lack of campaign cash.

District 1′s sprawling geography includes the county’s coastal areas and stretches from Keystone to Apollo Beach. Democrats hold a slight edge over Republicans in voter enrollment. The last Democrat to represent the district on the County Commission was Kathy Castor who left in 2006 after her successful run for Congress. Commissioner Sandy Murman has held the seat since 2010 but is leaving the district seat because of term limits.

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