Pinellas sheriff's race a hotly contested big battle

12:03 AM, Aug 14, 2012   |    comments
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LARGO, Florida - One man is 67 years old and has spent a lifetime in law enforcement. He started when he was just 18. He worked his way up through the ranks and loved every minute of it, he says.

Former Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice admits that leading the agency is the best job he's ever had. Rice has also been a state legislator and an attorney.

He says he's ready to serve the sheriff's office once again, as he did from 1988 until 2004.

Right now, his campaign billboard sits directly in front of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, and it seems to sum up this entire race.

In essence, sheriff versus sheriff.

On the other side of the Republican ballot, there's 50-year-old current Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. He is another candidate filled with passion, who has spent his life in law enforcement serving others. He is known as a details man, someone who loves getting involved with the day-to-day activities in leading.

He, too, is an attorney. However, Gualtieri claims, that's the end of the similarities.

"There's a difference between the two of us," says Gualtieri. "Everett has been out of the game for a while. The world has changed. Law enforcement has changed."

Longtime predecessor Everett Rice tells 10 News the reason he decided to run is simple: his phone rang off the hook with deputies and the public begging him to come back.

Rice says, "My background is as the elected sheriff, state legislator, and as a lawyer. I've been there, done that. Here's my record. My credentials are above anyone else's."

Rice claims he was attacked for double dipping, so he decided to donate his entire pension, roughly $105,000, to the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranches.

He says this job isn't about the money.

Rice says, "My leadership style is entirely different from what you see there now. I think just the change in leadership will help improve morale. I'm the only sheriff's candidate that came up through the ranks."

On the eve of the primary, Rice called voters directly, promising them he would do his best to boost morale, which he claims is at an all-time low at the sheriff's office, something current Sheriff Bob Gualtieri vehemently denies.

 

"We have good people in this agency. I'm proud of them. I'm hoping the voters know that when they go to the polls. This has been a long and hard campaign. I'm hoping to win tomorrow," Gualtieri says.

Gualtieri has been endorsed by fellow sheriffs like as David Gee and Grady Judd. However, he's also come under fire for internal affairs investigations and weeks of bad headlines.  

Gualtieri says, "That situation was four men out of 2,700 people. We took care of the situation. It's not what happens, but how you take care of it. And we took care of it."

The current sheriff maintains there's no question he's the man for the job and that he should continue leading Pinellas County.

Both men were working until the final hours Monday night in anticipation of the polls opening at 7a.m. Tuesday morning.   Sheriff Gualtieri has a party scheduled for Tuesday night at Bascom's Chop House in Clearwater, while Everett Rice is having his party at the Treasure Island Yacht Club.

So far, Rice says 45,000 ballots have already been mailed in by Republican voters.

Gualtieri estimated the race has cost both men nearly $700,000, including PAC money. Even Gualtieri says it's a large amount for a county race. 

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