Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Phyllis Busansky dead at 72

06/23/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Phyllis Busansky was discovered dead today in a St. Augustine hotel room this morning. She was 72.

She was found unresponsive in her room at a hotel where she was staying for a statewide convention of Florida elections supervisors.

For many in Tampa, the news was first broadcast this morning by Tampa City Council Chairman Thomas Scott.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has been a friend and colleague of Phyllis Busansky since they both served on the Hillsborough County Commission 20 years ago.

Ms. Busansky was a prominent Democrat in Hillsborough politics for more than 20 years, but perhaps her greatest legacy will be her leadership in getting the county to create an indigent health care system back in 1991.

Jan Platt served with Ms. Busansky on the Board, and before that, when Ms. Busansky served as the County’s aging services director in the early 1980s. Platt was shocked to hear of Ms. Busansky's death Tuesday morning.

After leaving The County Commission, Busansky ran and lost a bid for Congress in 1996. In the late 1990s, she was named executive director of WAGES, the Florida Work & Gain Economic Self-Sufficiency Board, by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles.

After that, she became a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, where her research focused on a wide variety of welfare reform, health care, and workforce issues. But the lure of public service inspired her to run what some considered a longshot campaign in 2006, to take on Gus Bilirakis for Congress.

Political columnist Wayne Garcia, who worked with Ms. Busansky informally in her 1996 Congressional bid and later at WAGES, said there were some who thought that her political career had already peaked when she took on Bilirakis.

Busansky won the race for Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections last November, though nobody knew it on election night. In what was indicative of the many problems that occurred under the reign of Buddy Johnson in 5½ years in office, it wasn’t until two days after the polls closed that she was declared the winner against Johnson.

In a press release, County Chairman Ken Hagen praised the reforms that Ms. Busansky had already performed in that office, saying, “in her too short tenure in that office, Ms. Busansky had already greatly opened access to citizens, improved communication with the public and worked tirelessly to restore the people’s confidence in the election process.”

Buddy Johnson was selected by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to run the Supervisors Office after Pam Iorio left the office to run for mayor in 2003. His office made a number of questionable moves and mistakes, and is now being investigated by the FBI after an audit revealed that he overspent his budget by nearly $1 million.

In the wake of all of that, former County Commissioner Jan Platt said she hoped Charlie Crist would not go idelogical in his selection of a successor.

Creative Loafing’s Wayne Garcia says concerns about Ms. Busansky’s successor at the Supervisor of Elections Office are legitimate.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Kurt Browning’s Office said today that state statute requires that Gov. Crist pick a successor. That person will serve until the 2010 election, and in 2012 a new supervisor will be elected to a four-year term.

Busansky and her husband, Sheldon, have three children and several grandchildren. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Congregation Schaarai Zedek at 3303 W. Swann Ave. The public is invited.

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