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Political Junkie: Mayoral candidate misses TECO streetcar opening

By BILL VARIAN and DAVID KARP
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 23, 2002


"A gaggle of city officials showed up Saturday for the grand opening of the TECO electric streetcar. Missing from the crowd was mayoral candidate Bob Buckhorn.

Buckhorn, who voted as a City Council member against funding the streetcar, said his absence wasn't a slight. He had already made a commitment to attend the Bar Mitzvah of a close family friend Saturday.

If he's elected mayor, Buckhorn said he will do what's needed to back the $53-million project.

"Even though I didn't support it, it will be incumbent on me to make it work," Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn's two opponents, City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda and business consultant Frank Sanchez, were at the opening. Both also went to the streetcar party that Mayor Dick Greco threw -- at taxpayer expense -- at Big City Tavern on Friday night.

Miranda voted in 1997 to use gas tax money, normally spent on potholes and roads, to finance the streetcar.

Sanchez, who worked for a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., in 1997, declined Tuesday to say if he would have supported the streetcar's construction. He would not say how he would have voted if he had sat on the City Council in 1997. He also would not say if he considered the city's funding of the project a good investment for taxpayers.

"I am not going to look backward," Sanchez said. "I fully support the streetcar now, and as mayor I am going to do everything I can to make it successful."

* * *

Expect big numbers of voters at the polls on Election Day, Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio says.

Her office has already received a record number of absentee ballot requests for a year when the governor's race tops the ballot.

The 28,700 requests she has gotten so far is already more than the 21,900 requests made in 1998 during the last governor's contest.

About 60 percent of the absentee request forms have come from the Republican Party, which mounted a campaign this year to get Republicans to vote early.

Iorio predicts about 62 percent of registered voters in Hillsborough will come out to the polls on Nov. 5. That would be higher than average.

A lot of voters have taken an interest in the governor's race, Iorio says.

"I see it through the phone calls and e-mails," Iorio said. "You can see it across the board."

* * *

Both state parties have decided to pour money into the state legislative race between Republican Faye Culp and Democrat Scott Farrell.

That's a sign that both parties see this seat, which covers south Tampa and Westchase, winnable. The split between Republicans and Democrats is about even in the district.

The Florida Republican Party has paid for cable TV ads and mailers for Culp that mostly boost her name recognition. The state Democratic Party launched an attack on Culp, a former legislator who wants her old seat back.

"Faye Culp cut our kids out of the picture when she voted to cut millions of dollars from Hillsborough schools," says a mail piece approved by Farrell.

It cites Culp's 1996 vote for the state budget, which it says reduced funding for Hillsborough schools.

Culp said Tuesday she hadn't looked back at the vote, but she called the ad "ugly."

"Frequently you vote no on one thing because there is a bill you will vote yes on the next day or that you are working on," Culp said.

Farrell said the ad makes a fair point about Culp's record.

"Those are her votes," Farrell said. "And she has to answer to Hillsborough County students."

This race is just getting cooking.

* * *

Incoming House Speaker Johnnie Byrd doesn't have an opponent, but he's still running campaign advertisements on TV this year.

And why not? As the most powerful member of the House of Representatives, Byrd easily raised more than $146,000 before his campaign opponent dropped out of the race.

Byrd's TV ad thanks voters for putting him in the House and encourages people to vote.

"Voting is a good thing," Byrd said.

-- Political Junkie is an occasional column on this year's election season. Got a tip? Bill Varian can be reached at 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com and David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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