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Redner, Miller draw them in

Early voting suggests the election has captured the city's attention.

Published March 21, 2007

[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
The bottom part of Redner's Mons Venus sign invites residents to vote. Election Day is Tuesday.

TAMPA - How compelling is the City Council runoff election between retired schoolteacher Gwen Miller and strip club owner Joe Redner?

Consider this: Turnout in the first two days of early voting for the runoff is 32 percent higher than the same period in the primary election, according to the supervisor of elections.

"We're in very interesting territory," said University of Tampa political science professor Scott Paine.

This is Redner's sixth run for public office, and the closest he has come to success. He will face Miller, who has served on the council for 12 years, in the race for the citywide District 1 seat in Tuesday's election.

Hair salon owner Joseph Caetano and real estate agent Frank Margarella are also set for a runoff in north Tampa's District 7, but Paine said it's the Redner-Miller race that's getting people to the polls.

"This is water cooler chatter," Paine said. "All of this buzz is about the fact that we have Joe Redner in a runoff with the potential of being elected to the City Council."

Whether the increased interest holds throughout the week and on election day Tuesday remains to be seen. Historically, runoff elections draw about half the number of voters as primary elections, Paine said. Fewer than 16 percent of Tampa's 179,297 registered voters cast ballots in the primary March 6.

Both Redner and Miller are urging people to get out to vote.

At a Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting Monday, Miller said this election is very important, and told people to go to the polls and take one, five or 10 people with them.

"And make sure they vote for me," she said.

Redner has been saying he doesn't care for whom voters cast their ballot, as long as they participate in the process.

This week, he is offering free admission to his strip club, the Mons Venus, to anyone who comes in wearing an "I Voted" sticker. So far, two people have cashed in on the deal, according to Redner's operations manager, Toni Derby.

At Sunday Mass at St. Lawrence Catholic Church, Monsignor Lawrence Higgins told his congregation to vote, telling them this is the most significant city election in some time.

Higgins didn't name names, but he spoke of the city's future, family values and good morals.

The strong voter response doesn't bode well for Redner, who is financing his own campaign, Paine said.

"If the reason there is so much buzz is Joe Redner, it's not about the fact that he's a smart businessman. It's not about the fact that he doesn't take contributions," he said. "It's about Joe Redner" who runs a nude dance club.

Typically, a boost in turnout means voters are angry or worried, Paine said.

"It's hard to imagine everything being equal that that bump in turnout is about people being so enthusiastic about Joe now that they're going to the polls," Paine said.

Darryl Paulson, a political science professor at University of South Florida St. Petersburg, agrees.

"One would have to assume that at this point in time this is an anti-Redner vote," he said. "He certainly has won over friends and supporters who were surprised that he's as adept at handling issues as he has been. But many people will never be able to get past who he is and what he does."

Paulson said Redner hurt himself with his tactic of free admission to the Mons.

"That was exactly the opposite of what he needed to do as a candidate to establish legitimate credentials," he said. "It reinforced that image that he's a little bit off the deep end as a candidate."

Redner would have been better off focusing on the issues and why he should replace Miller.

"He may still have success doing that," Paulson said. "He's a very articulate person and has all the money he needs to get his message out."

Janet Zink can be reached at or 813 226-3401.

Early voting sites

Election day is Tuesday. Voters can cast their ballots at any of the following early voting locations through Saturday:

- College Hill Library, 2607 E Martin Luther King Blvd.

- Supervisor of Elections office, County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd., 26th Floor.

- Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library, 3910 S Manhattan Ave.

- New Tampa Regional Library, 10001 Cross Creek Blvd.

- North Tampa Branch Library, 8916 N Boulevard.

- Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center, 2514 N Falkenburg Road.

- West Tampa Branch Library, 2312 W Union St.

The libraries are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Elections offices are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

[Last modified March 21, 2007, 06:08:21]

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