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Challenger upsets incumbent Cannon

The sheriff is not ready to concede defeat by press time. But he blames his showing on out-of-county Republicans working to oust him.

By TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- In a stunning upset Tuesday, political newcomer Bob White narrowly defeated two-term incumbent Lee Cannon in the race for Pasco County Sheriff.

White, 50, is a sergeant with the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco.

At press time, Cannon, a Democrat, had not conceded the race -- but did blame out-of-county Republican support for White's win.

"Any time you get that kind of outside, special interests in a race like this, it changes the playing field," Cannon said Tuesday night, in between saying goodbye to supporters. "We knew (Republicans) certainly outworked the Democratic party.

"If White wins, I will certainly say congratulations to him. If he wins, I will do my utmost to insure that there is a good, professional changeover."

Throughout the campaign, Cannon attacked White for his lack of management experience. White countered by asking Cannon about poor morale in the department, poor response times to calls and staffing levels.

White said if elected, he will reshuffle staffing in the department to put more deputies on the streets, pursue more grant opportunities and try to boost morale by allowing deputies to perform more thorough investigations.

Much of White's backing came from two well-known Pasco politicians and the state Republican Party. State Rep. Mike Fasano and former County Commissioner-turned lobbyist Ed Collins gave White advice and helped him with fundraising.

The state Republican Party gave White $15,000; local Republican groups gave him $2,000. Another big supporter was the Police Benevolent Association, whose state and local political action committees gave him $5,500. White is a member of the PBA and Collins is the group's lobbyist.

In all, White raised $83,264, and Cannon raised $133,002.

During the campaign, Cannon railed against Collins' and Fasano's influence, acknowledging that he has clashed with both men in the past.

"I'm not running a race against White," Cannon said in October. "I'm running against people who have agendas against me." White said that he was proud of his powerful supporters, and said that anyone who criticized them were "crybabies."

White didn't directly criticize Cannon, however, but a flier mailed last week to Pasco voters did.

"Lee Cannon ... an arrogant lawyer, a self-serving politician, an untrustworthy sheriff!" the flier said. "Lee Cannon, it's time you looked in the mirror. The only person to blame for your failures is yourself."

In July, White took a leave of absence from his job to run for sheriff. He has worked for the agency a total of 17 years. There, he supervised seven employees.

In 1972, White got his first job in law enforcement, at the Brooksville Police Department. He also worked for the Sumter County Sheriff's Department and the Florida Highway Patrol. For six years, White was a bank manager at a savings and loan in Brooksville.

White has lived in Pasco County for eight years. He lives with his wife and daughter, who is a Clearwater police officer, in southern Pasco County.

Cannon, 55, was first elected in 1992. He inherited an agency that was marked with years of controversy -- the previous sheriff, Jim Gillum, hired his girlfriend, accepted free use of vans and unknowingly took campaign contributions from a convicted drug dealer.

During this year's campaign, Cannon said he should be reelected because he brought professionalism, technology and recognition to the agency.

Some voters cited Cannon's support of a failed, proposed property tax to pay for 220 new deputies and 50 civilian support personnel in 1998. The statistics used by Cannon and his administrators to prove a critical staffing crisis were later found by the Times to be inaccurate.

Gulf Harbors resident Al Beeman, 53, said he thinks Cannon paid attention to unimportant issues.

"It's not like I'm saying Lee Cannon is all that bad," Beeman said. "I didn't feel that Lee Cannon was doing a good job."

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From the Times election desk

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