St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Ballot for Coe's office fills out

Two Democrats and three Republicans are file to campaign. Others announce they will not run for state attorney.

By GRAHAM BRINK and DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


TAMPA -- The campaign for Hillsborough state attorney began to take shape Thursday, a day before the official deadline for candidates to file paperwork with elections officials.

A second Democrat, Tampa lawyer Robert Shimberg, and a third Republican, former candidate Mike Kavouklis, both filed papers Thursday. They join Democrat Jonathan Alpert and Republicans Mark Ober and Bill Jennings in a race left wide open by the suicide of State Attorney Harry Lee Coe last week.

Shimberg, 37, said that before Coe's death he hadn't considered running.

"He was a really good friend," Shimberg said. "I'm running under very difficult circumstances."

Shimberg grew up in Tampa and attended Chamberlain High School. He received a finance degree and his law degree from the University of Florida.

He worked as a private lawyer before going to work for Coe at the State Attorney's Office, where he spent nearly five years.

Shimberg left the State Attorney's Office in 1998 and works at the Tampa firm of Hill, Ward & Henderson. He has served on the Florida Bar Grievance Committee and the Tampa Housing Authority.

A few other Democrats announced Thursday that they would not enter the race.

Leland Baldwin, a former prosecutor in Coe's office, said the time wasn't right. She will remain in a race for a circuit judgeship.

Paul Duval Johnson, a senior prosecutor and one of Coe's loyal aides, said he spent many hours considering options the past few days. Johnson and Shimberg had both been honorary pallbearers at Coe's funeral and grown close as friends.

"It had a sense of tragedy for me to run against Rob," Johnson said. "Judge Coe would have never wanted that; he would have picked one or the other of us. This feels better."

On the Republican side, elections office records confirm Kavouklis has entered the race, but he did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Kavouklis, 64, was born in Tarpon Springs and went on to serve as an assistant attorney general, a research assistant to the Florida Supreme Court, assistant state attorney, Hillsborough County Attorney and a Hillsborough County Court judge. He's been in private practice since 1984.

Kavouklis won the Republican primary over John Moser in 1996, but lost to Coe in the general election by less than 1 percent.

With Kavouklis in the race, the Republicans will face a runoff after the September primary unless one of the three candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote. A runoff could deplete the winning candidates' campaign funds and leave them vulnerable to the Democrats.

Neither Jennings or Ober said Kavouklis' entrance would change their strategies.

"I'm certainly not going to be intimidated by things I cannot control," Ober said.

Still unsettled Thursday was the question of whom Gov. Jeb Bush will name to replace Coe for the months leading to the November election. Bush is expected to name a replacement in the next few days.

While a dozen names have emerged, one candidate was mentioned more than others Thursday: John "Jack" Rudy II, a partner at the Tampa law firm of Ross, Gardner, Warren & Rudy and former president of the Hillsborough County Bar Association.

A former federal prosecutor in Washington from 1971-74, Rudy also served as a judge advocate for the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam during the war.

"I think he would do a good job holding down the fort there," said U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, a former law partner. "He was a tiger on the lawsuits I worked with him on."

Meanwhile, at the courthouse Thursday Chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez said he had calmed down after learning Wednesday night that Circuit Judge Gregory Holder had sent an e-mail to Bush alerting the governor to what he said was a Judicial Qualifications Commission investigation involving Alvarez.

The e-mail, which contained no specific information about the investigation, had been sent while Alvarez was being considered as a replacement for Coe. Alvarez has since withdrawn his name from consideration.

Alvarez said he was not being investigated by the JQC, and lashed out at Holder, accusing him of writing the e-mail because he knew it would be discovered by the press.

Thursday, Alvarez was conciliatory.

"Time heals all wounds," he said. "It is time to get back to the business of the court."

He said he would not sign a confidentiality waiver to allow the JQC to acknowledge whether it is investigating him.

"I think I'm just going to wait to do anything," Alvarez said. "If there is an investigation or whatever they are doing, let them complete it. And I guess we will find out if anything is there. I think in time that will work itself out."

Holder declined to comment Thursday.

-- Graham Brink and David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3366, or tampa@sptimes.com.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.