Betsy Benac unseats Joe McClash from Manatee County Commission

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 15, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Challenger Betsy Benac on Tuesday ended Joe McClash's more-than-two-decade run on the Manatee County Commission

With 113 precincts counted in the Republican primary for the at-large District 7 seat, Benac had amassed 12,871, or 50.9 percent of the vote, compared to McClash's 12,377, or 49 percent, according to the Manatee Supervisor of Elections website.

"It's unbelievably close, we knew it would be a horse race," said Benac a few minutes before 9 p.m. Tuesday night. A glass of wine in hand, she was surrounded by well-wishers at Pier 22 restaurant.

McClash was surrounded by a crowd of supporters, too, but they were not a happy bunch at Demetrios' Pizza House.

"I guess I'm feeling the effects of what it's like when somebody runs a highly negative attack," said McClash, who is a Bradenton businessman.

There will be no recount in the race featuring the two Republicans, said Manatee Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat.

McClash was first elected to the commission in 1990, and triumphed in many elections, while Benac is a newcomer to politics.

During the campaign, Benac said her big issue was "the economy, first and foremost, trying to get our economy back on track." "The budget is a huge issue," she said. "How are we going to stay within the revenues we have and not raise taxes? That's a huge issue for the voters, making sure we're committed to not raising taxes."

Benac's professional work has been as a planner, first with Manatee County, and then with development firms.

She said she would like to work with the county staff "and specifically look at if there are regulatory programs we can modify, we can reduce."

As of Aug. 14, Benac had collected $94,483.60 in campaign contributions, while McClash listed $18,142.50, according to the supervisor of elections' website. McClash said this year's race produced more "vicious, malicious" attacks than any other he has been involved in over the years.

District 5 County Commission

He cited fliers and robocalls with false messages to Republican voters by an entity called "Take Back Our Government," of which the registered agent was former Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Robert Waechter. The reason for the negative mailings and calls is that developers wanted control of the county commission, McClash said.

Benac now faces write-in candidate Thomas Dell in the general election Nov. 6 for the District 7 at-large seat.

Mike Burton, 43, of Palmetto, who works for an engineering and environmental consulting firm, was at Benac's celebration party Tuesday night.

Asked why, he replied, "Because I'm pro-business, and want to see economic growth and jobs in the community."

"I also want to see smart planning and good land-use decision-making," he added. "I'm pro-environment; I'm pro-Betsy."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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