Some school candidates' pockets are deeper

Some have raised a few thousand dollars; others, much more. But it may not matter.

Published September 2, 2006

Lew Williams knows that one of his competitors has raised more than twice as much money in their race for a seat on the Pinellas County School Board.

So far, Williams has collected about $13,000 from 160 contributors, many of whom gave less than $50. Professional mediator Peggy O'Shea, meanwhile, has brought in more than $28,000, including $20,000 from the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee.

Williams says he isn't worried.

"If we had another $20,000, there's a lot more we could do," said the former school administrator. "But I tell people we're doing this the old-fashioned way. We're getting out there and trying to gain people's confidence."

Williams is not the only School Board candidate competing on an uneven financial field.

Sean O'Flannery, a social studies teacher at Lakewood High School and another candidate in Williams' and O'Shea's District 3 at-large race, has raised just $1,460. About one-third of that came from his mother.

District 3 candidate Marti Folwell, a retired substitute teacher, has raised about $2,000. And Anne K. Scofield, a school support staffer, has recorded only $100 - a contribution from a commercial fisherman. Scofield says she preferred to finance her campaign with $1,550 of her own money rather than ask for outside support.

With 16 candidates competing for four seats in Tuesday's primary, there was bound to be a divide between financial haves and have-nots. But at least some of the disparity appears to reflect the unusually high stakes in this year's election.

The School Board races have been billed as a referendum of sorts on superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who in his nearly two-year tenure in Pinellas has found himself at odds with two of the four board members up for re-election.

Wilcox has expressed concern about this election, acknowledging that changes in the board's makeup could adversely affect him. His most recent contract extension was approved by a narrow 4-3 vote.

Another issue is the involvement of the Pinellas Republican Party in what are supposed to be non-partisan races. The GOP's executive committee made contributions in July totaling $35,000 to three candidates, including O'Shea, a longtime party worker who ran the local 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign.

The party gave $10,000 to real estate agent Carl Neumann and $5,000 to incumbent Nancy Bostock, At the time, party chairman Tony DiMatteo said one of his goals was "taking back the School Board."

Local political consultant Beth Rawlins says that money may not be a factor in the long run.

"It matters less in school board races than it does in other races," Rawlins says. "There has been in almost every election cycle in recent history a School Board candidate who has been underfunded, yet still has upset another candidate."

As an example, Rawlins pointed to current board member Janet Clark's 2004 campaign. Clark, then a newcomer, raised about $4,500, less than a quarter of what veteran board member Lee Benjamin raised. But she beat him by 10,000 votes.

Often, Rawlins said, such an upset occurs because voters are looking for change.

Sitting board member Linda Lerner, who is running for re-election in District 6, and Mary Brown, who is in a five-way battle in District 7, hope that's not the case Tuesday.

Lerner poured an extra $1,000 into her campaign to beef up nearly $9,000 in support from contributors such as Bill Heller, a former dean at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and St. Petersburg City Council member Richard Kriseman. Heller and Kriseman both are running for state House seats.

Brown pumped nearly $4,000 of her own money into her campaign, augmenting about $10,000 in contributions from the likes of Pinellas Education Foundation president Terry Boehm and St. Petersburg City Council member James Bennett.

"I try not to ask for any more than I feel I'm going to need," said Brown, who ran unsuccessfully in 1998 before becoming the first African-American elected to the board in 2002. "I usually run pretty close."

Like Williams, political newcomer Jennifer S. Crockett, a legal assistant and one of Brown's competitors, said her campaign was fueled by grass-roots support. She collected more than $7,500 from about 110 contributors.

"I don't think money by itself is an indicator of support," said Crockett, whose mother served three terms on the Pinellas School Board in the 1980s and '90s. "A $500 contribution is nice, but it's only one vote."


School Board candidate finance report summaries*

Contributions Loans Expenditures

District 2 at-large

Nancy Bostock $40,955 $2,100 $22,496

Chris Hardman 1,795 1,500 2,449

Mary Russell 6,893 900 5,484

District 3 at-large

Marti Folwell 2,130 500 2,259

Sean O'Flannery 1,460 ---- 137

Peggy O'Shea 28,370 ---- 10,077

Anne K. Scofield 100 1,550 1,624

Lew Williams 12,695 1,000 13,827

District 6

Jack Killingsworth 10,125 ---- 8,960

Linda Lerner 9,552 ---- 5,531

Carl Neumann 10,100 ---- 7,589

District 7

Mary L.T. Brown 9,891 3,700 8,720

Jennifer S. Crockett 7,629 2,500 9,197

Minetha L. Morris 1,500 1,800 2,293

Sheldon A. Schwartz 140 4,300 3,445

Ray Tampa 2,430 2,000 4,959

*As of 6 p.m. Sept. 1.

Source: Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office

To view a candidates' finance reports, go to www.votepinellas.com/default.aspx, click on "Candidate Contributions and Expenditures" and follow the links.