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Low-cost housing dogged Commissioner Kingsley

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By JEFF WEBB, Hernando Times Editor of Editorials

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 7, 2002

Chris Kingsley's loss was a complex matter.

Not complex as in complicated, but complex as in apartments.

How else to explain the 50-year-old Hernando County Commission incumbent's loss to a 27-year-old schoolteacher and political novice?

Kingsley's unwillingness, or at least his inability, to prevent the Spring Haven Apartments complex from being built on Mariner Boulevard probably contributed as much as anything to his defeat by Robert Schenck on Tuesday.

In particular, residents of Wellington and Seven Hills were zealous in their efforts to oust Kingsley. Signs opposing him (illegal signs, by the way) popped up around Wellington recently, recycling the phrase "our hands are tied," a sentiment that came to characterize the County Commission's initial reaction to residents' objections to the affordable housing units.

Kingsley, who lives in Seven Hills, was on the firing line when news of the proposed apartments became widely known. He attended several meetings early on and unwittingly became a lightning rod for angry residents, who expected him to do more to derail the project.

Kingsley said Wednesday he never overcame that resentment. "I became a focus of the controversy. (Residents) said, 'He's one of us. You should be able to stop it.' "

Besides the signs that urged people in the Seven Hills area to not vote for him, Kingsley said a telephone campaign was launched against him just days before the election. Almost everyone in the homeowners' directories was called and urged to not vote for him, he said.

"That was difficult to overcome," he said.

Kingsley told a Times reporter on election night that he thought he would take up "skydiving." On Wednesday, I asked him what he meant by that.

"Skydiving seems a little less dangerous than being in politics," he joked.

But losing his commission seat "is a minor setback. I still have stuff to offer," hinting that he might seek public office again.

Meanwhile, Schenck jubilates over win

Robert Schenck was riding high Wednesday morning as the realization that his months of campaigning to become a county commissioner had finally paid off.

Schenck certainly did it the hard way, defeating two heavily favored Republicans in the Sept. 10 primary, and then unseating a capable Democratic incumbent on Tuesday. He did it the old-fashioned way, with a grass-roots campaign that included a lot of knocking on doors and shaking hands.

He also used an 11th-hour blitz of direct mailings that touted his ideas, his promises to voters and his image as a young, working man.

But one of the mailings also contained some errors. In it, Schenck took excerpts from a Times editorial that recommended his candidacy to readers in the primary election. None of the four quotes he pulled from the editorial were completely accurate. Two were subtle changes, but the other two were substantially different and deserve to be clarified here because they suggest that the newspaper's opinion about his candidacy was stronger than it was.

Schenck's flier quoted the Times as saying, "He's a family man who cares about his community." The editorial described Schenck as a "young man with a family." No mention was made about his commitment to the community.

Another item in the flier quoted the Times as saying, "He has no political baggage to bring with him into office." In fact, the editorial stated only that his opponents in the primary, Paul Sullivan and Robert Kanner, had "political baggage."

Schenck said Wednesday it was an "honest mistake." I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because he ran a positive campaign that stayed focused on his platform and his ability to serve the public.

Before he is sworn in as a commissioner, though, he should learn to expect that every word he writes or speaks will be held to even greater scrutiny.

Welcome to public service, Mr. Schenck.

How Brown-Waite edged out Thurman

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite defeated incumbent Karen Thurman in the race for the 5th Congressional District.

Why? Because Thurman beat Brown-Waite on her home turf of Hernando County.

In a race as closely contested as this one (dead heat in the polls), and in a district as spread out as this one (all or part of eight counties), a candidate who can't win in her own back yard should be doomed. But Brown-Waite, as she has done many other times during her storied political career, bucked the trend.

She can thank voters in Lake County and eastern Pasco County for overcoming that hometown deficit. More specifically, she can thank her colleagues in the Legislature for redrawing the 5th District in such a way that it favored a Republican candidate.

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