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    A no-show again, Easterling says she's no 'dancing bear'

    By Times staff writers
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 25, 2002

    Hillsborough Commissioner Stacey Easterling added to her long list of missed forums when she skipped Friday's debate before the Tampa Bay Tiger Bay Club.

    Easterling, who is running against fellow Republican Commissioner Jim Norman for the at-large District 5 seat, has cited scheduling conflicts or missed invitations for previous absences. The Tiger Bay debate was planned for an earlier date, but rescheduled to Friday after Easterling said she would be out of town.

    Nevertheless, when folks gathered at the Wyndham Hotel on Harbour Island for lunch Friday, Norman appeared with only Robert "Bob" Wirengard, who is running without party affiliation and whose name won't be on the ballot until the general election.

    Easterling told a St. Petersburg Times reporter the night before that she had no intention of showing up.

    "Tiger Bay is looking for entertainment," Easterling said. "And I'm not a dancing bear."

    Tiger Bay president Steve LaBour said the forums are not about entertainment. Its members are involved in civic groups and tend to share their impressions with others who vote, he said."I'm disappointed," he said.

    Norman said he, too, was disappointed. He was prepared to take Easterling to task for associating him with special interests and lobbyists at a forum the day before in Sun City Center.

    Easterling said she would be spending the time knocking on the doors of prospective voters to talk to them individually.

    * * *

    LUTZ -- The "notice" was hot pink with two huge words: CODE VIOLATION. Nothing else. It was glued to a Bearss Avenue campaign sign for Denise "Dee" Layne, candidate for the Hillsborough County Commission.

    Layne said her sign is completely legal.

    Don Shea, Hillsborough County's director of community improvement, said the county would not put a notice -- and certainly not one that was hot pink -- on an illegal sign.

    "We would take the sign," he said.

    Political signs violate county law if they are on public property, including road right of way.

    Shea said citizens groups sometimes try to enforce the sign law through methods such as the pink label. "I strongly suspect there may be political opposition doing it, too," he said.

    So does Layne. "I don't appreciate it," she said.

    Shea said his staffers give candidates a break early in the campaign, but they are now in their biennial spree of sign seizing, collecting some 1,000 signs per week from rights of way. Considering the number of contested races on the Sept. 10 ballots, he said, "that's not bad."

    * * *

    The evening after Hillsborough Democratic Party chairman Mike Scionti died, the party's steering committee met to choose a temporary replacement.

    Vice chairman Rob Ray, 35, an electrician and active member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was named acting party chairman.

    The party's bylaws say the Democrats must hold an election for a permanent replacement within 45 days.

    "At this point, we need to get through this weekend, and we need to pay our respects to Mike Scionti and his family," Ray said.

    * * *

    A Mass for Scionti will be 7 p.m. Monday at Christ the King Catholic Church at 821 S Dale Mabry Highway. The family will receive friends at 6 p.m.

    Instead of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the American Heart Association.

    -- Political junkies can reach Bill Varian at 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com, and David Karp at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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