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Joe Henderson: In the end, Jim Norman was doomed by his own voice

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

When Jim Norman announced last year that he would try to resurrect his political career by running for the District 6 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, eyebrows arched all over Tampa.

I mean, the man was toting a lot of baggage, if you get my drift. But among his many traits, Norman really trusts the sound of his own voice. He no doubt thought he could smooth-talk his way past his controversies and back into the voters’ good graces.

His game plan, straight from the Denial 101 handbook, was to confront the issues about his ethics, or lack thereof — and to place the blame for those problems on anyone but him.

It didn’t work. The ploy was a spectacular failure, as voters said “nope, no way, no how” to Norman and showered love on his Republican primary opponent, Tim Schock.

So, on what appropriately seems a tropically depressing morning for the once-powerful Norman, we no doubt bid adieu to a career that at times seemed to be skyrocketing. Schock beat Norman 62-38 percent, and if that’s not a total repudiation of a candidate by the voters, I’m not sure what is.

There were, of course, other high-profile losers Tuesday.

Voters sent scandal-plagued Corrine Brown to the sidelines in North Florida. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson was soundly beaten by Patrick Murphy for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. Norman’s loss, deservedly, won’t get the same attention those will.

In Hillsborough, though, Norman was a widely known and polarizing figure. After three terms on the county commission, Norman was elected to the state Senate in 2010.

His star appeared to be rising there, but just as quickly began to plummet. He had to run again 2012 because of redistricting, but withdrew following questions about how his wife and late conservative power broker Ralph Hughes worked out a deal for a $435,000 house. There was a controversial trip to Las Vegas where Norman was spotted at a casino with a lobbyist. He was never charged, but did agree to an admission of an ethics violation and withdrew from his Senate re-election campaign.

“I didn’t break the law or I wouldn’t be standing here,” Norman said at a meeting I attended last year at The Tampa Tribune when he announced his commission bid. “But my antenna should have been going up and it didn’t. I’ve learned from my mistakes.”

Voters had learned something too, though.

They learned they didn’t trust him.

Schock hammered that point home during the campaign and it stuck. Norman seemed to sense he was doomed as the last days wound down before the voters made their judgment official. He lashed out as questions about his background kept coming up.

Norman’s gift always was making a person feel like they were the most important person in the room. The problem was, that usually wasn’t the case. Norman actually was a pretty lousy commissioner, too.

During what I thought was a moment of high comedy in his meeting at the Tribune, he declared that sprawl, traffic and unchecked growth were major problems that had to be addressed. Yet, much of that growth came on Norman’s watch, and he was a reliable vote for development without regard to impact.

Scandals aside, Norman came to represent the past — a past voters said had no place in the future.

The race in November for this seat should be close and interesting between Schock and Democrat Pat Kemp. Either one offers a new direction and voice, which is sadly needed on a body that wields much power in a huge county.

And in the end, Jim Norman was doomed by his own voice. The more he tried to talk, the more voters decided they had heard it all before.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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