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Election 2004

Pinellas County races: Burke, Coats advance in races for clerk, sheriff

Newcomer Ken Burke serves up a surprise, while Chief Deputy Sheriff Jim Coats, the sheriff's designated successor, easily wins.

By MICHAEL SANDLER and AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published September 1, 2004

LARGO - Ken Burke may have lacked the money, head start and name recognition of his opponent.

But the Republican and first-time candidate had enough votes Tuesday to defeat Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst in the primary for the Pinellas clerk of the circuit court.

In the other Pinellas Republican primary for a constitutional office, Chief Deputy Sheriff Jim Coats easily defeated Tim Glassburner in the race to replace outgoing Sheriff Everett Rice, who has decided to not seek reelection after 16 years in office.

Coats will face Democrat Bubba "the Love Sponge" Clem, a former radio shock jock, in the Nov. 2 election.

Burke faces Democrat Carrie Wadlinger, who has run a multimillion-dollar company that processes Medicare billings, in the general election.

Karleen De Blaker, the longtime clerk, is retiring after 24 years.

"I can't believe it!" said Burke, 44, crediting close friends for helping him beat the mayor with more than 57 percent of the vote.

"It's grass roots," said Burke, a graduate of Seminole High, St. Petersburg Junior College and the University of South Florida. "I grew up in the county. I went to school here. People know me."

Aungst had raised more than $105,000 and began campaigning in April 2003. Burke, who formally declared in January, raised about $62,000.

Burke never has held elected office. But he's well-known in Pinellas for helping the local Republican Party recruit candidates and for serving as president of the board at St. Petersburg College.

Burke is a certified public accountant, a legal administrator for a law firm and vice president of Seminole Title Co.

After deciding to run in January, he picked up endorsements from two former county commissioners - Chuck Rainey and Sallie Parks - and other elected officials, including longtime state legislator Don Sullivan.

Aungst, the mayor since 1999, was gracious in conceding the election. He thanked all his supporters.

"What happened, happened," said Aungst, 50. "I wish all Republicans well in November. I will be there to back them.

Aungst said he has no immediate plans to run for another public office. He said his goals are to focus on being mayor the next four months.

"We'll go from there," Aungst said.

The clerk of the circuit court manages all courthouse records, serves a four-year term, receives a $135,222 salary and is responsible for about 600 employees. This past year, the clerk was responsible for a $38.5-million budget.

In the sheriff's race, Coats, 60, is Rice's hand-picked successor.

Rice appointed Coats his chief deputy sheriff in 1995 and Coats has been a deputy for more than 30 years. The two worked the streets together decades ago. As chief deputy, Coats oversees the budget and handles other administrative matters.

Though he has never been elected to office, Coats had been appointed twice by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles as interim sheriff in departments plagued by problems. He began campaigning just a few months after Rice was re-elected in 2000.

Rice isn't his only supporter. As of Friday, Coats had raised nearly $175,000 - spending more than $100,000.

"It's great to have this first phase of the campaign behind us," Coats said. "We just have to look forward to the general election. I'm impressed with the number of voters who came out to support me."

Glassburner, 58, is a security supervisor and a former deputy sheriff in Ohio. He raised just under $10,000.

The sheriff is elected countywide, and oversees a budget of nearly $225-million and 2,800 employees - 893 sworn law enforcement officers and 826 detention deputies. The sheriff serves a four-year term and is paid a salary of $143,081.

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


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