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Unlike most candidates, Fox admits swiping campaign sign

Published August 26, 2006

Who is Al Fox? A trailblazer, as his billboards say? A bridge builder?

How about a street cleaner?

Every election, some candidate for office will complain that one of his opponents or some other adversary has been swiping his yard signs. Invariably, the opponent or adversary denies the accusation or pleads ignorance.

Not Fox, a Democrat battling four other party rivals in the primary for the 11th Congressional District seat.

Fox is an activist for opening U.S. relations with Cuba, and that's a big part of his campaign message. He has sparred repeatedly in recent years with Ralph Fernandez, a lawyer who vigorously opposes that position.

This week, Fernandez began planting yard signs around West Tampa with the message: "Give Fidel Castro a Voice in the U.S. Congress. Vote Al Fox. Paid for by Ralph E. Fernandez, registered Democrat since 1973." Just as soon as they appeared, they began disappearing.

Then Fernandez got a call from Enrique J. Cotera, 68, a retiree and Cuban native. Cotera told him that he had seen Fox get out of a beige car with a pro-Al Fox magnet on it Thursday, yank one of the Fernandez signs from where it stood at Columbus Drive near Gomez Avenue, toss it in the car and drive off. It was about 12:30 p.m. Two relatives were in the car and saw it, too.

Later that day, Cotera saw some younger people, one in another car sporting an Al Fox magnet, removing more signs. Cotera recounted it all for the political junkie.

"I would never do that if I had his position," Cotera said. "I don't like his signs, but I don't touch them because that is democracy."

Unlike most prospective pols, Fox owned up to it. Most of the signs are showing up in public rights of way, where they're not supposed to be, he said.

"When I see garbage on public property, I usually pick it up and throw it in the wastebasket," he said.

He went on to say that dozens of his signs have disappeared since he began putting them up.

Fernandez said he doesn't know anything about their disappearance and would report it to police if he saw anyone swiping Fox's signs, as much as he disagrees with Fox's position on Cuba. He said some of his signs have disappeared from private property and that the ones in rights of way are getting placed right next to where Fox has signs.

"This is a reflection of his respect for the First Amendment," Fernandez said. "People need to know that he has learned a lot from his mentor, Fidel Castro. The only difference is, in Cuba, they rip the signs and they execute the perceived culprit. This shows what Al Fox is all about and how he respects our right to disagree with him."

* * *

Lawyer Scott Farrell, another Democrat in the 11th District race, picked up the endorsement of St. Petersburg City Council member Jamie Bennett of District 5.

"Scott Farrell will bring a common sense approach to Congress and make sure his constituents are heard," said Bennett in a news release. "He is the only candidate in this race who has actively sought my opinion on the needs of our district. I am confident that he understands our needs and will represent this district well."

* * *

Republican state Senate District 10 hopeful Sandra Murman has picked up the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Bill Varian can be reached at or 813 226-3387.

[Last modified August 26, 2006, 01:14:17]

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