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Hickey hopes to mend rifts

After a tough race, the newly elected school superintendent says it's time to start pulling people together.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000


INVERNESS -- Throughout his campaign, David Hickey talked about running for school superintendent because children are important.

On Wednesday, the day after he unseated his boss, Pete Kelly, Hickey again focused on children. Specifically, he spent the day visiting his grandson Nathan, who turns 1 this month.

But the difficult election behind him and the significant decisions ahead were on Hickey's mind as he tried to unwind.

One of his top priorities will be drawing together people who have been splintered by the election, which pitted Hickey, principal and former assistant superintendent, against Kelly and Ansel Briggs.

Hickey, a Democrat, won 46 percent of the vote, compared with 44 percent for Kelly, a Republican. Briggs, who has no party affiliation, walked away with nearly 10 percent of the vote.

Hickey said he will pull the factions together by doing exactly what he said during the campaign. "I talked about involving people and that's what I plan to do," he said.

School Board Chairwoman Sandra "Sam" Himmel said she expects that the school system will be able to make a smooth transition to the new superintendent and two new board members who will all take office this month.

"Even with new leaders coming in, we've got business to do. We had issues to work on yesterday and we'll have them today," Himmel said. "I think it's one of those things where you just have to jump in with both feet."

With such divisions in the district, some officials have feared much turnover in the county office regardless of who was elected. Hickey said Wednesday that he hasn't even begun thinking about moving people around at this point.

With Homosassa Elementary School principal Roberta Long playing such an active role in his campaign, some observers have assumed she would take a place in his administrative circle. But Hickey said as far as he knew, she was enjoying the principal job and planned to stay there.

He also said there would be no role in his administration for Carl Austin, Long's fiance and former Citrus superintendent. Austin has been a Hickey supporter, and some of Hickey's opponents have said a vote for Hickey was a vote for Austin.

Hickey said again on Wednesday that he doesn't know why a connection to the so-called "good old boys" would be bad when they have worked hard for the school district over the years.

Another personnel-related task will be for Hickey to talk to Kelly about his place in the district. A longtime teacher, Kelly has said he looks forward to going back to the classroom.

"I haven't had an opportunity to talk to Pete. I am going to talk to him about doing what's going to be best for the children," Hickey said.

There are other big jobs ahead for Hickey, including selecting a replacement for himself as principal at Crystal River Middle School and securing a finance director. Getting the district's finances in order is a priority since the Citrus schools have been without a director for several months and Kelly has been filling in on the job.

"I don't want to be finance director," Hickey said. "That's going to be a major priority. We need to get a handle on the dollars and a clear understanding of where the dollars are earmarked to go."

Hickey said he doesn't know enough about politics to be sure why he bested his boss. He did say he thinks it helped to walk neighborhoods and talk to people face-to-face. That walking, however, helped him lose 16 pounds and may have contributed to a hospital stay in intensive care last weekend.

But Hickey said the voters can be assured he is healthy and able to take on the superintendent's job.

Kelly was not at his office Wednesday and did not return several phone calls left there and at his home.

On Tuesday evening, a visibly stunned Kelly said he was proud of the things that he had begun under his tenure and he hoped Hickey would move those forward. That sentiment was echoed Wednesday by Weston Stow, chairman of the Republican Executive Committee.

"The initiatives that Pete Kelly started during his tenure, the strategic plan he made, the forward-looking vision for the county should not only be continued but improved upon," Stow said. "I do not think that the election of Mr. Hickey is a repudiation of Pete Kelly's administration."

In fact, he said Kelly might have hurt his own cause.

"God bless him. He has worked his heart out. He has never stopped working all through the campaign and maybe if he had spent a little more time on the campaign, the outcome may have been different," Stow said.

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