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Heat on Hernando incumbents

Voters reject Commissioner Bobbi Mills while ensuring runoff challenges for Pat Novy and Paul Sullivan.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


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BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando County will have at least one new commissioner in November.

Political novice Carey Carlson handily defeated District 3 incumbent Bobbi Mills in the Republican primary, grabbing 56.7 percent of the vote. Carlson's victory sets up a November general election contest against Democrat Diane Rowden, who had no primary opponent.

With 42 of 51 precincts reporting, Mills saw her term coming to an end. She leaned toward her husband, Ron, and said, "You're going to get to go boating with me a lot more." Mills was not available after the final precincts came in.

Carlson said he thought the vote would be closer.

"It's an indication of the new leadership and style Hernando County wants," said Carlson, who had attacked Mills as a micro-manager.

The other two incumbents seeking re-election did not muster enough support to avoid runoff elections, which will take place Oct. 3.

Two-term incumbent Pat Novy snagged 48.9 percent of the vote in the District 1 Democratic primary, forcing her into a second primary against newcomer Betty Whitehouse, who gained 35.2 percent. Challenger Paul Weekley took 15.9 percent.

Novy pledged to continue to fight for residents.

"The citizens of Hernando County that understand I'm working hard for them and really realize it vote for me," Novy said.

Whitehouse promised to give Novy a run for her money.

"She had better get her high heels off," Whitehouse said.

The winner will face Republican Janey Baldwin in the November general election. Baldwin won 53.3 percent of the vote against Anna Liisa Covell.

Baldwin spent more than $11,000 in the campaign's final week. It was "absolutely" worth it, she said, "because I won. ... On to November."

Commission Chairman Paul Sullivan, meanwhile, also must battle for another month against challenger William "Alonzo" Merritt, who joined the District 5 Republican race to support Hernando Beach fishing and boating interests. A third candidate, John Callaghan, drew 22.7 percent of the ballots.

The winner of the October runoff will face Democrat Mary Coyne Aiken in November. Aiken had no primary challenger.

Sullivan expressed his disappointment and surprise at pulling only 45.8 percent of the vote. He attributed the results to overconfidence, low voter turnout and an attraction to Callaghan that he said he still needed to understand better.

"Tomorrow night there will be a meeting of my group, and we'll start determining how we will try to win the runoff," he said.

Callaghan said he expected his supporters to split between Merritt and Sullivan. He said he leaned toward Sullivan even though the two disagreed on many issues.

"I like Alonzo as a person, but he doesn't understand what is going on," Callaghan said.

All three incumbents faced stiff challenges, largely focused on the way they conducted themselves in office.

Merritt attacked Sullivan as mean-spirited and closed-minded, while Carlson depicted Mills as a micro-manager unable to see the big picture for the county. The Democrats and Republicans seeking to oust Novy all contended that her unwillingness to work with the administration or fellow commissioners made her ineffective and polarizing.

The sitting commissioners, meanwhile, defended themselves and their records.

Viewing the results late Tuesday, Sullivan said the anti-incumbent fervor was apparent and he would work to figure out how to counter it. He did not plan to alter his voting pattern, but Sullivan said he would "work my butt off" to gain more support.

Novy said she did not read anything into the results. She added that she would take nothing for granted as she continues into the runoff.

"I work hard and respect my opponents," Novy said.

Merritt was not available for comment.

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