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Election 2004

Pinellas County Commision District 1: Duncan on top in tight 4-way race

By MICHAEL SANDLER
Published September 1, 2004

LARGO - It ended up being perhaps the most expensive local primary election in Pinellas history. It was also one of the closest, with Ronnie Duncan edging out his three rivals to be the Republican candidate for Pinellas County Commission District I in the November election.

With all 378 precincts reporting, Duncan held the lead with 30 percent of the vote. He held his slim lead all night, leading runner-up Neil Brickfield at times by just 1,000 votes. The two watched as the final votes were counted, with Brickfield conceding defeat and congratulating Duncan about 9:40 p.m.

Shortly before 10 p.m., Duncan was greeted by a standing ovation at Tucson's, a Largo bar and grill where the Republicans held a reception for all candidates.

Duncan, 47, faces Democrat Norm Roche, a former public relations employee for Pinellas County Utilities, in the Nov. 2 election.

"I'm overwhelmed," Duncan said.. "I think we expected it to be very close. You have four people whose hearts are all in the right place. As a result, it doesn't surprise me."

Duncan is a commercial real estate broker with a business in Tampa. He chairs the Southwest Florida Water Management District board, and has served on two health care task forces during the Pinellas Assembly.

Brickfield, a Safety Harbor Commissioner, had visited about 10,000 homes since Memorial Day. He finished second with a little more than 27.5 percent of the vote. Candidates Lucile Casey and J.J. Beyrouti were close behind, each with more than 20 percent.

Duncan and his wife, Ann, are active fundraisers for the Republican Party. They have helped many well-known elected officials, including President Bush and Gov. Jeb Bush. Money was an important part of Duncan's campaign. Of all four candidates, Duncan spent the most - almost $124,000. As of Friday, he raised nearly $117,000 in campaign contributions and in-kind donations - with more than $16,000 in August. To cover the balance, he loaned the campaign $26,000 last month.

Combined, the candidates had spent more than $300,000 as of Friday.

The race was close throughout the night. At times, the difference between the leading candidate and the fourth place contender was just 2,500 votes.

Brickfield raised more than $56,000 in campaign contributions and in-kind donations. But he spent almost $76,000 - relying on a $25,000 loan to cover the balance. Money hardly helped Beyrouti, 52, mayor of Redington Shores since 1996. He raised more than $116,000 in money and in-kind donations, with more than $18,000 coming in August. He spent about $106,000 and loaned the campaign $5,000.

Casey, 62, is a Realtor who served two inconsecutive terms on the Pinellas County School Board. She was defeated twice in re-election bids, and lost a previous run for County Commission and a run for Clearwater City Commission. Casey raised less than $6,000. She loaned her campaign more than $17,000.

Staff writer Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report.

[Last modified September 1, 2004, 01:09:34]


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