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    Only one challenger meets deadline

    Of the four incumbents facing re-election in the fall, three face no opposition.

    By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 2, 2002


    Become a Pinellas County commissioner and you get an elected position paying $76,452 a year and an office with a water view.

    But so far, that's not enough inducement for most people to step into the ring against any of the four commissioners up for re-election in November.

    The deadline for county petition candidates expired Monday, and only one commissioner, Republican John Morroni, has an opponent. Democrat Dave Buby, a retired physician, is running against him.

    Buby needs 1,495 petition cards. He turned in more than 1,700 Monday, although the Supervisor of Elections still needs to certify that his signatures come from registered voters.

    The other three commissioners -- Calvin Harris, Barbara Sheen Todd and Susan Latvala -- remain unopposed.

    Political observers say the trio's name recognition, incumbency and hefty war chests are enough to scare off other candidates. Harris, for example, says he has raised more than $50,000.

    Candidates have until July 26 to file, but now must pay a $4,500 fee to do so.

    Two of the incumbents, Harris and Todd, hold countywide seats. Challengers are more likely to try a bid for the district seats, because it's easier and cheaper to campaign for those.

    "Running countywide is too imposing a challenge for aspiring commissioners," said Ed Armstrong, a Clearwater lawyer and campaign adviser.

    "To run a countywide race like that, you're looking at spending at least $100,000 or more," said Paul Bedinghaus, chairman of the county Republican Party.

    The seat Todd holds is for a two-year term instead of a four-year one, making it even less desirable.

    John L. Skolte, a Democrat and a real estate broker, had announced he would run against Latvala. But Skolte didn't file petitions Monday and has said it's unlikely he will run.

    Morroni's District 6, which runs from Pinellas Park and north St. Petersburg across Seminole and down the south beaches, has traditionally voted Republican, giving the incumbent an extra edge. Some local Republicans had talked about running against him, but so far they have decided against doing so. Bedinghaus said he had talked to a few possible opponents and discouraged them from running.

    "I think they realize there that it's an uphill battle," he said. "John is one heck of a campaigner and he's very popular with constituents."

    Both Morroni and Buby have been going door to door in the district. Buby also has attended several commission workshops and other events.

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