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Twins' great-granddaughter seeks a different kind of fame

By Times Staff
Published June 11, 2006

Readers of the latest National Geographic may have missed the potential political insight for Florida offered in a story about Mount Airy, N.C., and the descendants of the original Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng.

The twins loved fine cigars, literature, and smart clothes. Eng, the calm one, liked late-night poker. Chang drank and had a temper. Today, when someone like Sherry Blackmon says, "That's just the way the Bunkers are," she's referring to that temper. "Of course, I can talk about the Bunkers because I married one," says Blackmon, whose husband, Zack, is a great-great-grandson of Eng. Bunkers can turn reticent, too. "They might talk to you. Then again, they might not." They are noted for honesty, for being loving parents, and, sometimes, for holding grudges. "They don't argue; they just might not talk to you for 20 years," another relative explains. The twins, you see, produced a perfectly normal family.

Could Florida's next chief financial officer have a temper, hold a serious grudge, or be genetically honest?

"I'll pass," Alex Sink, the former top banking executive and current Democratic candidate for chief financial officer, said last week when asked about that passage. Then she added, "I really don't have a temper."

Sink is the great-granddaughter of "the twins," as she calls them. She grew up in the house Chang and Eng built, and speaks of them both with unmistakable pride and with a little trepidation. She speaks of their commitment to education, intellectualism and the business savvy for a couple of P.T. Barnum circus attractions to decide to cut out the middleman to make enough money to become farmers. Then she acknowledges the trepidation.

Strangers would come to see her house growing up. On the streets of Mount Airy, people would sometimes stop and ask the little girl with the hint of oriental features, "Are you one of the Bunkers?"

"When I was growing up my grandmother would even refuse to talk about the twins," she said, noting how proud she had always been. "We didn't talk about it a lot. I grew up in a puritan age, and there was always the sex thing," she said, referring to twins' nearly two dozen children. Then there's the pride in community: "Here are these two circus attractions who ended up settling in redneck North Carolina and were accepted in the community."

Sink's father, Kester Sink (a very un-PC pistol we last saw ogling waitresses at a West Tampa campaign event during her husband Bill McBride's gubernatorial campaign in 2002 - precisely why, Sink says, he'll be kept out of sight in this campaign) still lives in the Eng/Chang home and talked to National Geographic.

"Sink, a successful businessman who owns the largest chunk of Bunker land, does not suffer fools and ferociously protects the Bunker legacy. "They were not freaks," he says with a stare that dares you to think otherwise. "They were human beings who had a tremendous physical adversity to overcome. They left their home in Siam, their mother and family, and immediately picked up the language, mores, and manners of their adopted country. They were gutsy, smart, and self-confident."

DOCS FOR CRIST: Republican gubernatorial candidate and doctor's kid Charlie Crist - whom Tom Gallagher likes to paint as a pal of trial lawyers - last week announced a coalition of 125 doctors supporting his campaign. "The Doctors for Crist" coalition includes past Florida Medical Association presidents and other FMA leaders, Gov. Jeb Bush appointees to the Florida Board of Medicine and a former White House fellow. The coalition represents areas of medicine from cardiology, pathology and neurology to family, emergency and internal medicine, as well as others.

"Charlie Crist has been a steadfast advocate for Florida's doctors and patients and has continually demonstrated his goal of preserving access to quality care for all,'' said Dr. Carl "Rick" Lentz, past president of the Florida Medical Association.

SMITH'S FAITH: It seems Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith is on the defensive because a couple weeks ago he sent his son-in-law, a Lutheran minister, to represent him at a Miami-Dade Christian Family Coalition's Pastors Appreciation Prayer Breakfast. Suffice it to say the group opposing legalized abortion, stem cell research and anything smacking of gay rights is not a bastion for Democratic primary voters.

Smith has sent out a letter, noting his commitment to stem cell research, legal abortion and gay adoption to explain:

"While my positions on these issues and my firm belief that government policy should not be dictated by religion may place me at odds with some of those associated with the Christian Family Coalition, I am informed and guided by my own faith and convictions. This is why I asked Graham to attend the breakfast last month, as well as why I have attended and continue to attend events associated with other religious groups.

"I do not believe that one organization, one political party, or one group of people has a stranglehold on interpreting God's messages to mankind, nor that my campaign should ignore those who may differ with me on these issues. I am not running for governor for only some of Florida. I am running for governor for all of Florida - even those Floridians whose views are different from my own. In fact, Graham and I have some profound disagreements on the issues noted above, but those disagreements have not prevented him from embracing my campaign or my vision for our state. Indeed, our conversations on these issues have allowed both of us to better understand and respect each other.

''As my campaign continues to reach out to all Floridians, I recognize that some will not embrace every aspect of my platform. But this will not deter me from standing strong in my own beliefs.''

PHYLLIS VS. GUS: Phyllis Busansky, the Democratic former Hillsborough County commissioner running to succeed Mike Bilirakis in Congress, calls Republican front-runner Gus Bilirakis a "rubber stamp'' in a Political Connections interview airing today at 11 a.m. on Bay News 9.

"What people are looking for is someone who is a leader, someone who is an innovator, someone who really gets things done, and I don't think they want to old kind of rubber stamp, 'I'm just going to vote my party, do or die.' That's kind of who I am - a real independent thinker," Busansky said, noting the state Rep. Bilirakis voted with party leaders to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case and more recently to cut dental health care for veterans and children's health care.

She may be an independent thinker, but apparently she's also a careless critic. Bilirakis did not vote for the measures cutting veterans dental benefits and children's health care, as Busansky suggested. Her campaign said later it made a mistake in researching Bilirakis' votes in the last session.

As for the rubber stamp charge, his campaign noted that Bilirakis has proved his independence voting against such Jeb Bush priorities as school vouchers.

Starting Monday, the interview can be seen at no cost on Channel 340 (Tampa Bay on Demand). Meanwhile, Bay News 9 is gearing up to unveil a new interactive feature - I-polling - that will let viewers vote on given questions on Political Connections and other shows by using their remote controls.

Adam C. Smith contributed to this week's Buzz this week. For more political news check

[Last modified June 11, 2006, 05:48:44]

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