Crist supporters book rooms; an underdog takes on Morroni

Published October 18, 2006

PINELLAS GOP READY TO PARTY: With their man Charlie Crist awash in donations and continually besting Democrat Jim Davis in the polls, the Pinellas Republican Party is already planning the inauguration bash. Party chairman Tony DiMatteo has booked 50 rooms at the Holiday Inn Select in Tallahassee, where he and other party members plan to celebrate Crist's inauguration as governor on Jan. 2.

"We are being proactive," DiMatteo said. "We are very optimistic that Charlie Crist will win."

In the unlikely event of an upset on Nov. 7, DiMatteo said he would cancel the reservations or offer the rooms to Democrats, at a premium price.

HELP WANTED: Democrat Len Dramesi is running a guts-and-shoe-leather campaign against District 6 County Commission Republican incumbent John Morroni, who has the edge in both cash and name recognition.

So how did Dramesi get in this longshot race?

He responded to an ad placed in a local weekly newspaper by the Pinellas Democrats PAC, the political action committee led by Adrien Helm, wife of Ed Helm, chairman the Pinellas Democratic Party.

The ad read, in part, "Help Wanted ...Two alive Democrats to Replace 2 'brain dead' Republicans on the Pinellas County Commission ...We'll help get you elected!"

The two brain dead Republicans presumably are Morroni and District 4 Commissioner Susan Latvala, who faces no general election opposition.

Dramesi, 72, is passionate about protecting mobile home parks from development and has held elected office at the local level in New Jersey, where he was involved in the Democratic Party.

The ad got his attention, he said, and after chatting with Ed Helm it was clear each man had an interest the other could satisfy.

"They needed the candidate," Dramesi said. "And I thought it would be support for my cause."

DOCS OUT FOR JUSTICE: People for a Better Florida, the independent "527" organization that bashed Frank Farkas as a sleaze in the weeks before his Republican primary loss to Kim Berfield, is at it again.

The group, backed by the Florida Medical Association and physicians, paid for a round of automated phone calls to voters Monday attacking Berfield's general election opponent, Democrat Charlie Justice.

The two are seeking the Senate District 16 seat, which includes parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The recorded message begins, "This is a values alert." It goes on to say that Justice has "neglected the insurance crisis" and repeatedly voted to raise taxes, among other sins. "The more we learn about Charlie Justice, the worse it gets," the message ends.

Going after Justice for ignoring the insurance crisis strikes Berfield critics as absurd. The insurance industry has donated heavily to Berfield, a House member who in 2004 was named Representative of the Year by the Florida Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the Florida Insurance Council.

"This is Kim Berfield's special-interest smear machine engaged in a last-second, desperate act to save her campaign," said Mitch Kates, Justice's campaign manager. "They are just reaching."

CHECK OUT THE CANDIDATES: Berfield and Justice will join Republican Angelo Cappelli and Democrat Bill Heller, who are vying for the House District 52 seat, for a candidates forum on Oct. 25.

These are both hot races that are getting a lot of attention from the state parties.

The free forum is being sponsored by AARP Florida, the League of Women Voters St. Petersburg Area and the St. Petersburg Council of Neighborhood Associations.

It's scheduled to take place from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Sunshine Senior Center, 330 Fifth St. N in St. Petersburg. Refreshments will be available starting at 6:30 p.m.

Will Van Sant wrote this week's Junkie. Staffers can be contacted at politicaljunkie@sptimes.com.