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Politics

City races full of surprises

Joe Redner forces Gwen Miller into a runoff; Mary Mulhern beats Shawn Harrison.

By BILL VARIAN
Published March 7, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Justin Cook]
Joe Redner fields questions during his public access show Tuesday.

Tampa elections
Would you vote for Joe Redner for a seat on the City Council?
Yes, absolutely.
No, definitely not.
I'm undecided.

photo
[Times photo]
Gwen Miller will face Redner in a runoff on March 27.

TAMPA - Experience wasn't necessarily a plus in Tampa's city elections Tuesday.

Two-term Tampa City Council member Shawn Harrison failed in his bid to move to a citywide district. And Gwen Miller, a 12-year veteran of the council, was forced into a runoff with strip club owner Joe Redner.

Harrison narrowly lost to Mary Mulhern, a name familiar to many city voters because she ran for the Hillsborough County Commission in the fall, losing in a district that includes much of the city.

"We just worked really hard, and we got people inspired so they worked really hard for us," Mulhern said from her victory party in South Tampa.

Tampa voters also moved Redner closer than ever to winning a political seat as he emerged from a crowded field to force a runoff with Miller on March 27.

"I'm going to be pushing it," Redner said of his sixth try at elective office. "I've got a hell of a shot."

And in the bitter and expensive District 4 race to represent South Tampa, incumbent John Dingfelder held off a challenge from newcomer Julie Brown.

Former City Council member Charlie Miranda made his quest to return to the board look easy in District 6.

And in District 5, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Tom Scott knocked off Frank Reddick, who was appointed to the council in November.

In North Tampa's District 7, real estate broker Frank Margarella will face a runoff against salon owner Joseph Caetano.

Citywide District 3 council member Linda Saul-Sena had no opposition for re-election.

Although the ballot was small, the election was not without problems.

The Hillsborough County supervisor of elections was investigating an allegation that a poll worker tried to sway voters who were casting ballots at the Mary Bethune High Rise, a community for the elderly. Freddie Bell Williams, a poll worker since 2000, was removed from the polling site, and elections workers will investigate.

Here's a look at the races:

District 1

Miller is a 12-year veteran of the Tampa City Council and seeking re-election to her citywide seat. She received 27 percent of the vote. Redner received 23 percent.

Among Redner's supporters: Angie Ponichtera, a 72-year-old who volunteers giving Holy Communion to Catholic patients at St. Joseph's hospital.

Why Redner?

"He's got a lot of money, and he's not going to get bribed. He'll be honest," she said.

The strip clubs don't matter to her. "He'll do a good job," she said. "Just give the man a chance."

An attempt to reach Miller was unsuccessful.

District 2

In the biggest upset of the night, Mulhern, 48, a graphic designer, squeaked by Harrison, who raised roughly four times as much campaign cash. But as the votes were counted, this proved to be the closest race in the city.

Mulhern had unsuccessfully sought a County Commission seat representing much of the same turf in the November election, losing to Rose Ferlita. But more than a year of campaigning appeared to pay off.

In the final weeks of the campaign, she blasted Harrison in mail pieces as "the invisible man" who had failed to address the traffic congestion in his North Tampa district and stormwater problems in South Tampa.

Harrison, who ran on a platform of lowering taxes and shrinking government, said he was proud of the race he ran.

"I ran on issues that I'm proud of," he said. "I think we started a great dialogue in this community."

District 4

Dingfelder arrived at Beef O' Brady's on South MacDill Avenue with thumbs up as supporters cheered. An hour later, with all the ballots counted, he had won with 53 percent of the vote.

The incumbent in the District 4 race, Dingfelder faced an aggressive opponent in Brown, a former assistant city attorney. The two made constant headlines as questions arose about their campaign contributions.

With that, negative attack ads were mailed out against Dingfelder by a group called Election Watch-Florida.

"It's been very stressful, and at times very hurtful," said Dingfelder's wife and campaign manager, Lynn Marvin Dingfelder.

"Running against an incumbent is a challenge for anybody," Brown said.

Joseph V. Citro, the third candidate in the District 4 race, came away with about 5 percent of the vote.

District 5

Scott, 53, the pastor of 34th Street Church of God, made the transition from County Commission to the City Council, representing eastern and central Tampa. He surpassed 50 percent in a three-way race.

"I'm really, really, really elated," Scott said, "because people in District 5 have enough confidence in me to make me their representative."

Scott knocked off Reddick, who had sought elective office unsuccessfully three times before getting appointed to the City Council in November.

"I will continue to be a voice in my community," Reddick said.

Lynette "Tracee" Judge, a social worker, finished third.

District 6

In the largely West Tampa contest, Charlie Miranda easily made his return to the City Council after a four-year absence, with more than a 2-1 lead over newcomer Lisa Tamargo.

"It was not my victory," Miranda said. "It belongs to the people who went out to the polls and made the decision."

District 7

The District 7 seat, held for eight years by New Tampa's Harrison, will once again be occupied by a New Tampa resident. The question is, "Which one?"

Caetano of Tampa Palms and Margarella, are in a runoff.

The choice, which probably will be made by voters in neighborhoods such as Forest Hills and the University of South Florida area, is a clear one. Caetano, 73, protested that New Tampa has been shortchanged by City Hall. Margarella, a 56-year-old commercial Realtor, adopted the politics and tactics of Harrison, pledging to work within the system.

The two businessmen narrowly eliminated Charlie Perkins, 31, who campaigned door to door in the district's southern, blue-collar neighborhoods.

Staff writers Janet Zink, Kevin Graham and Bill Coats contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at 813 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

 

District 2

Votes %
Shawn Harrison 12,592 49
Mary Mulhern 13,180 51
District 4
Julie Brown 4,614 42
Joseph V. Citro 572 5
John Dingfelder 5,926 53

District 5

Votes %
Lynette "Tracee" Judge 612 13
Frank A. Reddick 1,651 36
Thomas Scott 2,332 51
District 6
Charlie Miranda 5,249 71
Lisa Tamargo 2,142 29

* A runoff between the top two candidates in Districts 1 and 7 will be held March 27.

District 7 *

Votes %
Joseph P. Caetano 1,445 36
Frank J. Margarella 1,299 33
Charles "Charlie" Perkins 1,210 31

[Last modified March 7, 2007, 06:28:03]


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