Janet Long wins tight Pinellas County Commission District 1 race

Long, a Democrat representing the at-large District 1, was challenged by Republican Larry Ahern, a former state representative.
Former state Rep. Larry Ahern, left, a Republican, and Pinellas County Commission incumbent Janet Long, right, a Democrat.
Former state Rep. Larry Ahern, left, a Republican, and Pinellas County Commission incumbent Janet Long, right, a Democrat. [ Janet Long ]
Published Nov. 4, 2020|Updated Nov. 4, 2020

Democrat Janet Long on Tuesday retained her Pinellas County Commission District 3 seat in a tight race against Larry Ahern, a Republican and former state representative.

With all precincts reporting, Long received 50.55 percent of the vote, to 49.45 percent for Ahern, according to unofficial results from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Long, who turns 76 on Friday, has had bipartisan support in her campaign for a third term, earning endorsements from local mayors on both sides of the aisle as well as advocacy groups from the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association to the Sierra Club.

“Tonight’s victory reflects the confidence Pinellas voters have in their county commission, and it reaffirms we are headed in the right direction,” Long said in a statement. "I am gratified by their support, and I deeply appreciate that they respect that I base my decisions on science and facts. I look forward to continuing to work in a bipartisan fashion on our biggest challenges: Keeping our residents safe during the pandemic, responsibly addressing the impacts of climate change and improving our transportation system.''

She also led Ahern, 65, in contributions. Long has raised $193,540 compared to Ahern’s $109,351, according to finance reports.

The race has been marked by Ahern backers who have lashed out against Long’s support of the county commission’s June 23 ordinance requiring face coverings in most indoor public places to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Anti-mask advocates have inundated county officials with emails and phone calls, pledging to vote Long out of office. They also targeted County Commissioner Charlie Justice, the only other incumbent up for reelection, rallying behind his Republican challenger.

But Long has defended her support of the mask mandate, which she said is based on science and advice from health professionals. Last month, she said if the mask issue forced her out of office, she would consider it “a badge of honor.”

Ahern also ran a campaign without directly facing Long. Ahern declined to participate with his Democratic opponent in interviews and forums with a dozen of the most well-known advocacy organizations, places where candidates typically compete for votes. From the Pinellas County Realtors and League of Women Voters to the chambers of commerce in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Ahern has been a no-show at candidate events held virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ahern’s campaign website cites limited government, the rule of law and liberty — buzzwords aligned with Republican talking points in an election year centered around President Donald Trump’s bid for a second term.

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During her first two terms, Long has become known for her advocacy in preparing for climate change. In 2018 she helped launch the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, a body to coordinate elected officials and stakeholders in climate related policy. She pledged to continue these advocacy efforts in a third term, advocating now to establish a state resiliency office in tandem with the Florida Association of Counties.

Long has also made transportation a priority this campaign. She is advocating that the county seek funding less from the Legislature and more from state funds dedicated to strategic intermodal systems and other “creative ways to fund our transportation projects while focusing on new and emerging technologies.”

Before her election to county office in 2012, Long served two terms in the Florida House and one term as a Seminole City Council member.