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Local roots, support boost Burke's victory

MICHAEL SANDLER
Published November 3, 2004

LARGO - With a catchy slogan and a cadre of local supporters, Ken Burke became Pinellas County's first new clerk of the circuit court in nearly a quarter century.

The Republican candidate earned 58 percent of the vote Tuesday in defeating Democrat Carolyn Wadlinger.

Burke won by stressing his experience as a CPA, a law firm administrator and president of the board at St. Petersburg College. He also stressed his local roots, having grown up in Pinellas and attended high school and college locally.

He replaces Karleen De Blaker, who is retiring after 24 years on the job.

"This whole race was about educating the voters on what the clerk does and what your credentials are," said Burke, 44. "I feel good my credentials match up well."

Wadlinger, who moved to Pinellas from the Midwest after a career in health care, had expected to earn more than 42 percent of the vote.

"I'm surprised at the margin," said Wadlinger, 59. "I thought it would be a little closer. But be that as it may, you go forward. There is always tomorrow."

The clerk of the circuit court manages all courthouse records, serves a four-year term, receives a $137,218 annual salary and is responsible for about 600 employees. The clerk's local budget is about $12-million.

Though this was Burke's first run at public office, he had plenty of support. He counted former county commissioner Sallie Parks and state legislator Don Sullivan among his supporters. He also had "Burke for Clerk" signs on many lawns and along most major roads.

That was enough to help him defeat Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst in August's Republican primary, even though Aungst had an eight-month head start and raised nearly twice as much money.

Money ultimately helped Burke win the general election. He raised more than $125,000, including about $40,000 in the final two weeks, according to his last campaign finance report filed Oct. 29. The Pinellas Republican Party gave him $15,000 in the final stretch.

Burke spent more than $140,000 on the entire campaign and $50,000 in the final two weeks. He invested $19,000 from his own pocket.

Wadlinger depended on her own money to compete. Though she raised $22,000 from outside contributors, she contributed $40,000 of her own money, according to her finance reports.

Wadlinger moved here from Ohio in 2000 after more than 30 years in the health care industry, most on the business side. She has worked for hospitals, consulting firms and even started her own company that processed Medicare and Medicaid claims. She sold her interests in 2000 and made a path for Florida.

Burke said he wants to make the office more progressive, making forms and services accessible online. He would add "greeters" in every office who can answer general questions, using Wal-Mart as an example.

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