Florida Keys voters on Tuesday returned 20-year School Board incumbent Andy Griffiths to office by a wide margin.
Griffiths defeated political newcomer Yvette Mira-Talbott, a Conch who spent nearly $21,000 on her campaign that largely centered on the fact that Griffiths has had 20 years to serve on the board.
But the other School Board race was too close to call 10:30 p.m., as Marathon activist Ed Davidson remained slightly ahead of former Key West principal John Welsh without a final count of 250 absentee votes from Key Largo.
At 9:30 p.m., there were also still 250 absentee ballots being driven from Key Largo to Key West and each needed to be counted and verified by signatures.
When all 33 precincts had reported, Davidson's lead Welsh by 107 votes, but those figures did not include the 250 absentee ballots from Key Largo.
Blogger Sloan Bashinsky signed up as a write-in candidate, meaning his name wasn't on the ballot, and won 115 votes, or 0.35 percent of the vote, not counting the missing absentees.
Neither Welsh nor Davidson left the Keys version of campaign central, the Harvey Government Center in Key West, knowing the final tally.
During the campaign, Davidson complained that Welsh took Republican Party money despite the fact that School Board races have been nonpartisan in Florida since voters said so in 1998.
"Half of the people who voted in this election didn't vote in the primary; they weren't involved in the issues," Davidson said, leaving the Key West center uncertain of whether he will take over the seat vacated by the retiring Duncan Mathewson.
Welsh has said that he would have taken Democratic party money if it had been offered. Davidson said the Republican money influenced voters to choose Welsh, adding that he turned down $500 from the Democrats in Monroe County.
Bashinsky said Tuesday he felt bad if his candidacy affected the outcome of the School Board race.
In comparison, Griffiths won decisively, taking 61 percent of the vote to Mira-Talbott's 39 percent, with the same votes still uncounted.
Griffiths was ahead by 7,647 votes by press time.
Griffiths financed his own campaign with about $20,000, and called it his toughest contest since he first ran in 1992, ousting an incumbent.
"I worked the hardest," said Griffiths, after waiting for the final numbers at the Harvey Government Center. "She forced me to reconnect with a lot of constituents."
Mira-Talbott, in her first bid for public office against an incumbent she called "Superman," absorbed the loss with a graceful smile after a grueling campaign season that forced both candidates to travel up and down the 126 miles of U.S. 1 comprising Monroe County in a nonpartisan race.
"I thought I had a lot of good to bring to the school district based on its history," Mira-Talbott said, minutes after the majority of polls showed the race was over. "Unfortunately nothing is going to change."
Mira-Talbott had the teachers union endorsement and a Key West backing that forced Griffiths into a runoff after the Aug. 14 primary that featured a third candidate who took 15 percent of the vote while she captured 39 percent. But she didn't have the Keyswide reach that Griffiths has developed over two decades in the public eye.
"He needs to reconnect; people are not happy with him down here," Mira-Talbott said, when told what Griffiths said about her challenge. "These are people's lives you're talking about."