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Flag Day event will spotlight commission hopefuls

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002

TAMPA PALMS -- Organizers of a June 14 Flag Day celebration hope to combine New Tampa's patriotic spirit with its civic duty.

They have invited all 25 Hillsborough County Commission candidates to the event, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in Tampa Palms' Compton Park. Their intention is to give residents the opportunity to size up their future elected officials.

"It's sort of like walking the ponies at the Kentucky Derby and letting the people see them," said Jim Davison, a candidate for District 2 and thus one of the ponies.

New Tampa Votes, which is hosting the event, plans to give each candidate three minutes to introduce themselves to voters. There will not be a debate or a formal question and answer period.

The other goal is to build community among New Tampa neighbors. Carol Poland, a member of New Tampa Votes, said she hopes Flag Day celebrations will become a tradition.

Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies will be on-hand to put on a motorcycle demonstration and a canine exhibition that Poland, in jest, called "attack the bad guy."

A youth band from St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church will perform American classics and officials from the county Supervisor of Elections Office will display two voting machines.

The group selected Flag Day in part because it fit well with its mission to boost voter participation in New Tampa. Organizers would be happy with a turnout of 200-300 people.

Scott Paine, a former City Council member who lives in Tampa Palms, recently told New Tampa Votes' members that the key to the event's success will not be in the balloons or the soft drinks, but in its ability to spark political conversations among people who seldom vote.

Paine echoed legendary Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil's famous line that all politics is local. Boosting New Tampa's abysmal voting rate, he said, is a "long and lonely process."

In the 1999 City Council race, just 15 percent of registered residents turned out to vote.

"We're proselytizing citizenship to people who don't believe," said Paine.

Paine co-chairs the Compass Project, a nonpartisan effort that Tampa politicians launched late last year with the hopes of encouraging more people to run for office and spark better political debates.

-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at balz@sptimes.com.

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