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Rivals trash absent Castor

The Democrat takes her licks in absentia during a debate of her primary opponents Wednesday.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The other Democratic candidates for the 11th Congressional District seat sharpened their knives on perceived front-runner Kathy Castor during a debate she didn't attend Wednesday night.

Lawyer Scott Farrell said that although Castor claims to stand up to special interests, she has received more than $400,000 of her more than $900,000 in campaign contributions from outside of Florida.

Al Fox, an activist for opening relations with Cuba, noted that the giant power poles erected by Tampa Electric Co. in the Egypt Lake area of north Tampa still stand, although Castor says she has championed the cause of residents who oppose them.

State Sen. Les Miller said Castor was no hero when moderator Wayne Garcia asked her opponents whether she deserved that label for casting the lone Hillsborough County Commission vote against that government's ban on gay pride recognition.

"It's the right thing to do," Miller said. "I was elected by the people, and that's what I'm supposed to do."

Garcia writes a political column for the Weekly Planet newspaper, which organized Wednesday's debate at the Palladium Theater. He said before the opening comments that Castor's campaign actually suggested the date.

Castor's campaign manager, Clay Phillips, was left to defend both her absence and the comments from her rivals. He said he initially agreed to the debate time before learning of a public hearing, which had two important items Castor couldn't miss.

In addition to the out-of-state money, Castor has received a little more than $80,000 from political action committees. Phillips said most of that came from labor groups and organizations the other candidates courted as well. Her rivals "are disappointed they weren't as successful in getting those resources," he said.

Much of the out-of-state money comes through Emily's List, a group that supports candidates who are prochoice, Phillips said. He said Castor touts her record of standing up to powerful interests because she has, be they developers or those pushing to privatize the county's indigent health care program.

In a predebate news release, Farrell accused Castor of taking money from big corporations with bills before Congress, such as Verizon, and from Washington, D.C., influence peddlers, such as the former firm of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Fox echoed that, saying her campaign image doesn't match her campaign ledger books.

Lawyer Michael Steinberg was least inclined to draw blood, saying he hoped to work with whoever is elected, if it's not him.

The primary election is Sept. 5. The winner of the Democratic contest in District 11 will face Republican Eddie Adams Jr. of Temple Terrace in the general election.

[Last modified August 24, 2006, 05:31:51]

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