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Insiders will battle for top job


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


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BROOKSVILLE -- This much is for sure: Hernando County's next sheriff will be a department insider with more than 20 years of law enforcement experience.

The question voters still have to decide in November is: Will it be Maj. Richard Nugent, the winner of Tuesday's Republican primary election, or Sgt. James "Eddie" McConnell, the victor of the Democratic one?

Nugent and McConnell, who both work at the Sheriff's Office, won by huge margins Tuesday night, with about 72 percent of the Republican vote going to Nugent and about 78 percent of the Democratic endorsement to McConnell. Republican candidates David Mihok and Herbert Pletcher received about 21 percent and about 7 percent of their party's vote, respectively, while Democratic candidate Thomas "Sweep" Langone earned about 22 percent.

Nugent -- the man endorsed by Sheriff Tom Mylander, who is retiring after 16 years in office -- said he was gratified by the win and surprised by the extent that he outdistanced his opponents.

"In a three-way race, it's unbelievable," he said, watching election results come in at the Hernando County Government Center as his middle son gave him a high-five.

"And we're ready for the next challenge," he added, already looking forward to the general election, in which he will face off against McConnell. "It's going to be fun."

McConnell was similarly stunned by his landslide finish and looked forward to a party full of friends and campaign volunteers awaiting him at Brooksville Christian Church following the final tally.

"I never thought, I never thought," McConnell whispered to his wife, with his arm around her as he watched his numbers. "I'm very humbled by what we've got. I have faith not only the issues I've brought out, but in the people of the Sheriff's Office and the community."

He, too, expressed eagerness to start campaigning for the general election.

"I don't want to jinx us . . . but I'm confident," he said.

Now that it is official that two men from the Sheriff's Office will be battling to succeed Mylander, the sheriff said Tuesday night that he will try to keep the election from interfering with agency business.

"It has been difficult . . . but so far, we've been able to keep the department intact," said Mylander. "But as the process goes on, well, it is politics."

McConnell agreed that the office may take on a more charged atmosphere.

"There is definitely a split," McConnell said. "But I want to limit that as much as possible by keeping a low-key campaign. When I'm at work, I'm working. The Sheriff's Office comes first."

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