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Scott, Hargrett find places in runoff election

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


TAMPA -- State Sen. James T. Hargrett Jr. forced incumbent County Commissioner Thomas Scott into a runoff for his job Tuesday, setting up a race in October that could turn nasty fast.

Hargrett wound up with a comfortable 5 percentage point lead over Scott in the three-way Democratic primary for the District 3 commission seat, which covers central Tampa and Palm River.

Community activist Betty Reed, who ran a low-budget campaign, placed third, 6 points behind Scott.

Hargrett had hoped to avoid a runoff against Scott, who is running under the cloud of a federal investigation of his dealings with a Tampa businessman.

Still, Hargrett declared victory as he greeted a quiet crowd of about 20 supporters in the basement of the Italian Club in Ybor City.

"In the election, two of three people said they wanted a new face on the County Commission," said Hargrett, 58. "Two of three people voted against Tom Scott."

"I'm gratified," he added. "I'll take a win any way I can get it."

The two candidates must now recharge for the runoff. Hargrett has $22,723 left in his campaign account. Scott has $9,000. Voter turnout was low for Tuesday's primary, and will be even smaller in October. Campaign organization will be crucial.

Whoever wins next month will take on Libertarian Joe Redner in the Nov. 7 general election.

Scott, pastor of the 34th Street Church of God, waited inside his office on what he called "judgment day" as supporters gathered in the church social hall. Scott said he looked forward to running a positive campaign based on his accomplishments.

But Scott did not hesitate to criticize Hargrett Tuesday night, as he did in the final days leading up to the primary. "When you look at Hargrett's contributions, they are mainly from lobbyists from outside Hillsborough," Scott said. "That is going to be quite interesting."

At the end of the campaign, Scott mailed fliers attacking Hargrett for his support for Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. Hargrett endorsed Bush for governor in 1998 at the Italian Club -- the same place where he celebrated Tuesday.

Scott also criticized Hargrett's attempt to run for re-election to the Senate after voters approved term limits for legislators.

Hargrett reminded voters about Scott's problems. His campaign sent out fliers and made phone calls about the federal investigation into Scott's ties to a businessman who wanted to sell medical equipment to Tampa General Hospital.

Scott arranged meetings between businessman David Bekhor and former TGH president Bruce Siegel, who successfully campaigned to take the hospital private with Scott's help.

Although Scott denied it at the time, Bekhor gave Scott's church $15,000. Scott returned the money after the St. Petersburg Times obtained copies of the canceled checks. The ensuing federal investigation continues.

On Tuesday, Scott, 46, said he has learned from the investigation. "As a commission, you want to avoid anything that has the appearance of impropriety," Scott said. "You also learn you can't trust anyone. I've grown."

Reed, surrounded by friends at the River Oaks Apartment clubhouse, said she was pleased by her showing. Voters responded well to her grass-roots, positive campaign, she said.

The 59-year-old director of career services at Tampa Technical Institute ran against Scott in 1996 and came within 250 votes of beating him.

"There is no way I can lose no matter what the outcome is," Reed said. "I have not lost.

"People realized I am a viable candidate. And I have a lot to offer."

Both Scott and Hargrett said they would begin to immediately court Reed's voters.

"I want to say Mrs. Reed has run a very good race and a very clean race," Scott said. "I have a great deal of respect for her."

- David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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