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    Reno echoes marchers' demand for health care

    The gubernatorial candidate joins the crowd's cry to remove Jeb Bush from office.

    By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 21, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- About 400 people marched down First Street on Saturday, demanding health care coverage for all Floridians.

    The marchers -- health care employees, union members and gubernatorial campaign supporters -- carried signs calling for "Affordable health care!" and "Secure Health Care Coverage 4 All!"

    Other signs -- with less temperate wording aimed at insurance companies -- appeared closer to the point of the event.

    "We have health care workers who have no health care insurance," said Staci Maiers, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union, which sponsored the rally. "It's a horrible irony that our workers face on a daily basis."

    The group marched from the Hilton St. Petersburg to Straub Park, where union officials and political candidates, including Janet Reno, echoed the same message: Remove Gov. Jeb Bush from office.

    "Enough is enough," said J.W. Strickland, retiree mobilization coordinator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

    With the September Democratic primary looming, gubernatorial candidates Reno and Bill McBride used Saturday to promote their campaigns. Both hope to earn the union's endorsement.

    "For too long we have watched as we invest after the problem occurred," Reno said at the rally, saying she wants to see government funding focus more on preventive medicine. "We invest in emergency room care for treatment that would not have been needed if we had invested up front."

    Neither Reno nor McBride has released a plan for providing health care in Florida. McBride was scheduled to appear at the rally, but his campaign representatives said he had to coach his son's baseball game because another coach failed to show.

    The service workers union, which has a high concentration of members in south Florida, is said to be leaning toward Reno, but the McBride camp hasn't given up.

    "We have worked hard to get this endorsement, to gain the SEIU because four months ago it was a foregone conclusion that they were going to endorse Reno," said Eric Riley, political director for the McBride campaign.

    The union's state coordinator, Rick Smith, said he expects the group will make an endorsement before the Democratic primary. In the meantime, the union is focusing on beating Bush and spreading the word about health care workers who can barely afford insurance.

    SEIU member Ana Lecarso, for example, is a certified nursing assistant at Rehab and Health Care Center in Tampa.

    She said she works 36 hours a week at $8.25 an hour and pays $49 a week to provide health insurance for her husband and three children. After taxes, Lecarso works one day each week just to afford the health care premium.

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