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King bests Ferro to win fourth term

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


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INVERNESS -- State Attorney Brad King, who touted his 12 years of experience running the region's "largest law firm," easily dispatched attorney Henry Ferro in Tuesday's primary to win a fourth term.

King, 43, led Ferro, a former Dade County circuit judge who aggressively attacked his record, by a better than 2-to-1 ratio with almost all precincts reporting, according to the state Division of Elections.

No Democrats entered the race, which opened the contest between the two Republicans to all voters. The outcome means King gets four more years as top prosecutor for the 5th Judicial Circuit, which covers Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties.

"First of all, I'm honored that the people of this circuit trust me," King said Tuesday night. "That's what this race really came down to, the question "Who do you trust?' I think the voters answered that convincingly."

King received 72 percent of the votes in Citrus County, and 69 percent in Hernando County, with all precincts reporting. The numbers were incomplete in other counties.

King kept his campaign simple and methodical, despite facing criticism from Ferro, 42, who moved to Ocala from South Florida five years ago. King emphasized his nearly 20 years prosecuting cases, first as an assistant state attorney starting in 1980, compared to none for his opponent.

In campaign stops, he said the average tenure of lawyers in his office had climbed from a little better than one year to more than seven years, leading to smarter prosecution. And he noted that he oversees a budget that has nearly doubled to about $10-million in a dozen years.

Ferro faulted King's handling of several high-profile cases. He argued that the conviction rate for King's office was little better than 40 percent on all felony cases and that dismissal rates were too high.

In his biggest splash, Ferro accused King of covering up for an assistant overheard talking with a friend in a conversation recorded as part of a drug sting. King concluded that the assistant had done nothing wrong, and the governor's office declined Ferro's request to investigate. Ferro's strategy appeared designed to grab attention for a relative newcomer. But it also came with risks, as articulated by Willie Eldridge, a retired Inverness Primary School principal casting his ballot Tuesday in Citrus County.

"That bothered me," Eldridge said. "For people to carry on negatively in campaigns . . . it kind of turned me off."

Ferro said he was disappointed, but wouldn't change the way he campaigned.

"I still feel very strongly that all the issues we talked about are on the money," Ferro said Tuesday. "I was the outsider who came in and said some very harsh and difficult and tough things. I don't take back or back off anything I've said because I believe what I said was the truth."

- Staff Writer Jim Ross contributed to this report.

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