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Activist Warren sails past Cooper

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


INVERNESS -- Republican banker and community activist Janice Warren will succeed Norine Gilstrap as Citrus County's Tax Collector after handily defeating her Democratic rival Tuesday.

Warren claimed 58 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns. She will take over the post Gilstrap inherited from her late husband 26 years ago.

Warren will be sworn in Jan. 2.

"She's had my respect and admiration for more than 20 years," said Warren of the woman she replaces. "They're big shoes to fill."

With 42 percent of the vote, Lee Cooper, a certified public accountant who runs his own financial consulting business, scored well for a relative newcomer. He faced a well-known opponent in Warren, who outspent him in the campaign by nearly $20,000.

"I lost the election, but I'm the biggest winner down here," Cooper said outside the Supervisor of Elections Office Tuesday night. "I met the most incredible people in the past six months and I'm grateful for that."

Warren, 48, a former SunTrust Bank vice president who left her job to pursue the post, ran on a resume of financial experience coupled by work on several community boards. She has served as chairman of the Leadership Citrus Board of Governors and as director and corporate secretary for the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce.

She defeated three Republican opponents in the primary, avoiding a runoff by garnering more than 50 percent of the vote. Warren said she, along with friends and family members, visited more than 7,400 homes to state her case during the campaign.

According to a voting breakdown, Warren outscored her opponent in all but three of 35 precincts. She did particularly well on the west side of the county, where she lives, outpolling Cooper by a greater than 2-to-1 ratio in vote-rich Sugarmill Woods, for instance.

Warren has pledged to use her banking and community experience to help an office that runs well provide better customer service. She has pledged to tap into technology to allow residents to seek licenses or get information online.

She also has pledged to establish a consumer protection phone line for people to check on contractors' licenses, set up alternative payment methods using the Internet and provide a 24-hour drop box at Tax Collector's Office locations.

Cooper, 53, survived a runoff with fellow Democrat Richard Brady after the two claimed the top two vote totals in a six-person Democratic primary. Having moved to Citrus County three years ago from Orlando, he lacked the Warren's name recognition, not to mention her campaign chest.

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