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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Nov. 5, 2004 15 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: Ken Burke and Pat Frank, clerks-elect in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, have long to-do listsCynthia Newton wins judgeship. Liz Rice voted onto Hillsborough County judge seat.

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Out with the old

Ken Burke and Pat Frank, the respective court clerks-elect in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, have long to-do lists following their Nov. 2 election victories.

At the top of both lists is getting to know the staffs of the retiring clerks, Karleen F. De Blaker in Pinellas and Richard L. Ake in Hillsborough, as Burke and Frank prepare to take office in January.

Republican Burke says he was reluctant to talk to De Blakeris top lieutenants during his successful campaign to defeat Democrat Carolyn iCarriei Wadlinger. iI didnit want to politicize the office,i he says.

Frank says she usually wasnit received well during the campaign when she tried to talk with Ake or his aides about office operations. iThe door was cracked, but it was never really open,i says Frank.

Ake and most of his staffers backed one of their own in the Democratic primary, office legal counsel Helene Marks, who lost to Frank. There were reports that embittered Ake partisans threw their support in the general election to Republican Chris Hart, who also went down to defeat against Frank.

Frank talks as if she has a bigger challenge than Burke as they clean out the cobwebs behind the departing veteran clerks. There are indications that Akeis traffic department is in need of immediate attention, according to Frank.

The incoming clerk says she received numerous complaints on the campaign trail that traffic violators are paying fines to Akeis office and yet the state still suspends their driveris license for non-payment.

After sighing deeply, Frank says: iItis going to be looked at.i Ake couldnit be contacted by GCBR.

Frank says she will spend the next few weeks evaluating which of Ake staffers can make it under her more demanding management. iThereis good people over there,i she says. iWe need to ferret them out and find out who they are.i

Newton wins

Cynthia Newton scored a commanding victory at the general election over Jack Day in the race for Pinellas-Pasco Circuit judge.

The assistant Pinellas-Pasco public defender earned 54.9% of the vote, with 94.4% of the vote counted. Day, a board certified civil trial attorney, received 45.1% of the vote.

Newton won the election without an endorsement from The St. Petersburg Times. She replaces retiring Circuit Judge Thomas E. Penick Jr.

Liz bests Henry, again

Liz Rice overcame an eleventh-hour spending spree by opponent Henry Gill to win the Group 11 seat for Hillsborough County judge. The Tampa attorneys met for a runoff after Rice just missed earning 50% of the vote at the Aug. 31 primary.

Rice, a creditorsi rights and bankruptcy lawyer at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson PA, won 53.91% of the vote. Gill, an attorney and senior claims officer at Chubb Insurance Co., earned 46.09%.

On his most recent campaign finance report, Gill reported he spent about $13,000. On the other hand, Riceis most recent finance report shows she spent only a nominal amount of money. Throughout the campaign, however, Rice outspent Gill almost 2 to 1.

Let the suits begin

Doctors and lawyers have taken it on the chin from Florida voters.

The MDsiconstitutional amendment capping legal fees in medical malpractice cases passed. But so did two anti-physician measures designed to spotlight those who repeatedly screw up in the operating room.

If the pre-election doomsday scenarios from each side are correct, there will be few new malpractice claims filed in Florida yet also fewer doctors to sue.

These two deep-pocketed interest groups arenit going to stand for voters impeding their ability to continue making very good livings here. Court challenges to the three amendments are almost certain o if the doctors can find a lawyer to file theirs.

Midnight scrambler

Bob Buckhorn is nursing more than a bruised ego after his political comeback failed Nov. 2.

The former Tampa city councilman, who lost a mayoral bid last year, was defeated again this month for Hillsborough County commissioner. Republican Brian Blair turned back Buckhorn by 2,368 votes out of 430,492 cast.

Local Democrats are asking: Did some automated calls to voters on election eve make the difference?

According to one voter who talked with Coffee Talk, a female voice told her around 11:30 p.m. Monday that Buckhorn had ia history of sexual harassment.i

Buckhorn confirmed the calls but not the allegation. (He was subjected to a similar last-minute smear in a 1992 state legislative primary.) Buckhorn was particularly frosted that voters reported their caller-identification service indicated the new smear came from his employer.

Somehow the caller-ID was scrambled to make it appear the automated messages originated at a government-relations firm where Buckhorn works.

Places such as Chicago and Philadelphia may justifiably claim the title of home to the nationis most creative political dirty tricks. But they better not look back. Tampa could be gaining on them.

Most influential

Thirteen Gulf Coast business people made Florida Trendis 2004 list of the 174 most influential Floridians: Lee Arnold, chairman/CEO, Arnold Cos., Clearwater; Al Austin, CEO, Austin Cos., Tampa; Dick Beard III, president, R.A. Beard & Co.; Bill Habermeyer, president/CEO, Progress Energy Florida, St. Petersburg; Tom James, Chairman/CEO, Raymond James Financial, St. Petersburg; Pat Neal, president, Neal Communities, Bradenton; Steve Raymund, CEO, Tech Data, St. Petersburg; Mel Sembler, founder, Sembler Co., St. Petersburg; Chris Sullivan, founder/CEO, Outback Steakhouse, Tampa; Bill McBride, partner at Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood Long & McBride PA, and spouse, Alex Sink, retired banker, both of Tampa; Rhea Law, president/CEO, Fowler White Boggs Banker, Tampa; and H. Lee Moffitt, attorney, Tampa.

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