St. Petersburg Times Online: Election 2000
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Decision on sheriff brings prayers, tears

Bob White says: "I see this as more of a calling than a pursuit.'' Lee Cannon emotionally thanks supporters.

By TAMARA LUSH and MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000


HOLIDAY -- At the moment of victory, Bob White's first instinct was to pray.

Pasco's new sheriff-elect bowed his head and gave thanks to the Lord and the 72,952 people who elected him. At his side stood his wife, Diane, and a few dozen supporters who gathered Tuesday night at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Grand Boulevard.

"I see this as more of a calling than a pursuit," White said later, as he grinned and hugged his sunburned volunteers.

White, 50, admitted to feeling a little overwhelmed. This was his first run for elected office, and he ousted Lee Cannon, a two-term sheriff who is president of the Florida Sheriff's Association, by 4,835 votes.

A few miles away, in a room dimly lit to match the mood, Cannon conceded defeat and tearfully thanked his supporters.

"Keep your chin up," he said to several of them. "Don't let anyone get you down."

Cannon's tears were mixed in with the sniffles throughout the room at Seven Springs Golf and Country Club, filled with his supporters, many of them deputies.

One of the more emotional thank yous from Cannon was to his executive assistant, Harold Sample. Cannon wept as he hugged his longtime friend. Sample said that with Cannon, the Sheriff's Office has come a long way.

"You leave us a much better place, for each one of these folks and for the citizens of Pasco County," Sample told Cannon.

Cannon said he had eight good years in office and made many friends.

"The rewards that I've gotten from being sheriff, there's no way in the world I can explain that to people," he said.

But his final sentiment to the crowd was a backhanded swipe at state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a big supporter of White.

"I hate to say this, because I know a person who says it all the time: God bless you," Cannon said, echoing Fasano's trademark goodbye phrase.

Mike Cox, the head of the Pasco County Democratic Party, said Cannon's outspoken, aggressive demeanor is the type of personality people say they want in politicians.

"But when we get that in a politician, we find it's an attribute we don't like."

But Cox said Cannon wasn't through with politics.

"I'll carry a Lee Cannon sign again," Cox said.

Cannon also hinted at a future run for office.

"It may not be over," Cannon said. "You never know what kind of crazy things I might do in the future."

Cannon said Tuesday that he would try to make the transition to White's administration as smooth as possible.

"I will certainly meet with him to do an orderly turnover," said Cannon. "The Sheriff's Office doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the sheriff. If people decide they want a new sheriff, I'll respect that."

But Cannon said that it may take the agency a little while "for things to settle."

White said he expects a low-key transition. He has a steep learning curve in the next few weeks: He has to pick a command staff and get to know an agency that spends $1-million a week.

"I don't even know where (Cannon's) office is located, on what side of the building," White said.

Early Wednesday morning, after most of his supporters had left, White fingered a small lapel pin in the shape of a sheriff's badge. It was a gift from Ed Collins, a former county commissioner and current Tallahassee lobbyist.

"I can't even begin to tell you the responsibility I feel," White said. "I've talked to so many people. To think that I might let those folks down is a little more than I can stand right now. I can't let them down -- that's not an option."

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