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2 days to go, voters undecided

A poll shows Midtown residents want a supermarket but aren't sure whom they want to represent them.

By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Published September 25, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Incumbent Earnest Williams and environmental activist Darden Rice are leading the race for the District 6 City Council seat, a St. Petersburg Times poll shows.

The poll also found overwhelming support for the city's plan to bring a new supermarket and a bank to Midtown, the predominantly poor and black area south of Central Avenue, and general satisfaction with the direction the city was heading.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled rated Mayor Rick Baker's job performance as good or excellent.

District 6 voters will cast their ballots Tuesday to select two out of the five candidates to advance to the Nov. 8 general election. The district includes part of downtown, Midtown, Uptown, the Lake Maggiore area, Old Southeast and Coquina Key.

A primary election is also being held in District 4, the northeast section of the city.

The Times poll of 604 registered voters from District 6 was conducted Friday by Communications Center in Lakeland. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

With just a few days before the primary, a majority of those polled - nearly 60 percent - say they are still undecided.

Williams, who has held the seat since 2000, was leading with 16 percent of the vote. Rice was close behind with 12 percent. Cassandra Wooten-Jackson, the president of the Pinellas County Black Republicans, was third with 6 percent.

Dwight "Chimurenga" Waller, president of the Uhuru movement, and local activist Maria Scruggs-Weston trailed with 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Williams, drained after a day of campaigning under the hot sun Saturday, said he was encouraged by the results but wasn't taking any chances.

"We're out here working hard, and that's what we plan to continue to do," Williams said. "We're just out here trying to get the message out."

Waller, however, expressed skepticism.

"I think the poll is only as good as the people you polled," he said. "And in the end, polls don't vote. People do."

The results seem to refute one of Waller's major themes on the campaign trail: opposition to the new supermarket and the bank planned for a shopping center at 18th Ave. S and 22nd Street. He called the project "capitalist extraction," arguing the white-owned businesses will strip away money from the black community.

Residents overwhelmingly disagreed with Waller, with 81 percent saying they favored the city's efforts to bring the development to Midtown.

"I'm seeing a blighted area all of a sudden come back to life," said poll respondent Ronnie Wilcher, 64, who lives in Lakewood Estates. "I'm seeing houses going up all over the place. And I think this supermarket and the bank are sorely needed."

Wilcher, who is retired from AT&T, has lived in the district for 18 years and said he plans to vote for Williams.

"Everything that's happening with the present group of politicians has been excellent," he said.

Baker has made the revitalization of Midtown one of his priorities since taking office in 2001. More than $100-million in federal, state and local funds have been poured into the 5.5-square-mile area, which now boasts a new library, a health center, a newly renovated Manhattan Casino as well as freshly paved streets and new street lights. The area's first full-service post office is scheduled to open soon.

"It seems like things are finally starting to straighten out," said Martin Dempsey, 75, another poll respondent who lives in Midtown.

Voters also disagreed with Waller's assertion that a white person isn't qualified to represent a predominantly black district. His comment was a swipe at Rice, the only white candidate of the five.

The poll found 82 percent of voters, including 78 percent of blacks, thought a white person could adequately represent the district.

"It doesn't make any difference," said Willie Butler, 58, who is African-American and lives in Midtown. "My blood's red, your blood's red, it's all the same."

Rice said she thought the results were obvious.

"People care about substantive politics," she said. "People care about a leader that brings solutions to the table. I think we're moving beyond some of the division."

Waller's group, the Uhurus, drew a mixed review. Forty-four percent of the respondents said the organization always or sometimes reflected their views. An identical percentage said the group never represents their views, while 12 percent said they didn't know.

Count Antoinette Cooper among the naysayers. The 54-year-old retiree called the Uhurus "troublemakers."

"They find racism and wrongdoing in things when it's not really an issue," said Cooper, who is black. "Whenever something's popular they jump on it. Then they drop it a little while later."

Cooper, a longtime resident of Midtown, said things in her community are better now than they have ever been. She's still undecided who she will vote for in the primary but is an enthusiastic supporter of the mayor.

"He's done a superb job," Cooper said. "Maybe some people are saying there isn't enough development in Midtown or there should be more. But at least there's something. I still remember back when there was nothing."

Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or

[Last modified September 25, 2005, 02:32:01]

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