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    In South Florida, allegations flying in state Senate race

    ©Associated Press
    August 24, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- The Democratic primary for a South Florida state Senate seat has turned into a nasty affair, with accusations of money offered to get candidates to drop out, talk of bad business practices and a complaint about use of the "race card."

    Five Democrats are vying in District 39, covering southern Miami-Dade County, the Keys and a rural swath of Hendry, Collier, Broward and Palm Beach counties. It's one of the most crowded races.

    Donald Jones and Ron Saunders both contend that former state Rep. John Cosgrove has intimated that he would be willing to pay money to keep them out of the contest.

    Cosgrove vehemently denies that and says the allegation is part of an effort to discredit him.

    Cosgrove has criticized Saunders' business practices at candidate forums, and on Friday Cosgrove, who is white, accused Jones, who is black, of "playing the race card" by making the allegation about getting him out of the race. About half the district's Democratic voters are black.

    Yet another candidate, state Rep. Cindy Lerner, said someone called her contributors trying to get them to ask for their money back.

    Another primary hopeful, former Rep. Larcenia Bullard, said it's the most vicious race she's ever been in.

    "The tension during the forums and the passing out of literature and the snide remarks," she said. "My goodness, this race has gotten so bad, I was fearful someone might pull a gun at some point."

    The Legislature redrew the district this year, but it's mostly the region previously represented by Sen. Daryl Jones, D-Miami, who is running for governor. He is not related to Donald Jones.

    If voters haven't noticed the nastiness, Donald Jones said prosecutors have. He said he's been interviewed by the State Attorney's Office about the allegation that someone offered him money on behalf of Cosgrove to quit the race.

    The State Attorney's Office would not confirm that Friday.

    Jones, a law professor at the University of Miami, would not name the person who allegedly met with him, but said it was a "Democratic Party official."

    "That official stated that John Cosgrove would pay $25,000 for me to get out of the race," Jones said. "I can't be bought."

    Cosgrove called the allegation a "naked lie" and said he is the victim of a smear campaign. "This is scandalous; it's scurrilous," he said.

    Cosgrove said he understood that Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chairman Ray Zeller met with Jones to try to persuade him to run for another seat -- but he never suggested Zeller should offer anyone money.

    Zeller doesn't believe he ever met with Jones. "No, no, no, no. I do not concentrate on primaries at all," Zeller said.

    Saunders said Cosgrove talked to him outside a Homestead City Commission meeting last month.

    "He said, 'If you run . . . I'm going to spend $75,000 in the Keys against you,' " Saunders said. Then, Saunders claims, Cosgrove told him, "If you don't run I'll have that money and I can invest it in one of your businesses."

    That never happened, Cosgrove said. "Heavens no. That's ridiculous."

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