tampabay.com

Council runoff attracts big vote

Tampa goes to the polls today in a council race that has attracted more than local attention.

By JANET ZINK
Published March 27, 2007


TAMPA - The unusual matchup of a strip club owner and a 12-year City Council veteran appears to be capturing voters' interest as few local runoff races ever have.

Voters in the city of Tampa go to the polls today to choose between Joe Redner, 66, and Gwen Miller, 72. But many others have taken advantage of early and absentee voting, in big numbers.

The Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Office has already received more absentee ballots for today's runoff than it did for the March 6 election that included the mayor's race and six council seats.

As of Monday afternoon, the office had processed 4,466 absentee ballots for the runoff, with a deadline of 7 p.m. today. The office received 4,099 ballots for the first election.

Along with the Redner/Miller citywide District 1 race, today's ballot also includes a runoff between hair salon owner Joseph Caetano and real estate agent Frank Margarella in north Tampa's District 7.

Rarely do runoffs meet or exceed turnout in the initial election. In totals from early voting, which ended Saturday, 3,869 people went to the polls over six days. The primary election drew 4,572 voters over 12 days.

The District 1 race received national attention after Redner offered free admission to his renowned strip club, Mons Venus, to people with "I Voted" stickers.

Redner, who had earned praise from politicos as a serious campaigner with his recent races for County Commission and now City Council, acknowledges the tactic might have hurt him by underscoring his reputation as a nude club owner.

But he said he doesn't care. The point he wanted to make, he said, was that people should vote.

"Vote for me. Vote against me. Just go vote," he said Monday.

And to those who don't make it to the polls in any election, Redner says this: "If it doesn't work out the way you want it to work out, then you can't complain."

In the weekend leading up to election day, Miller and Redner campaigned in each other's strongholds.

Redner went to a Baptist church in East Tampa, where Miller dominated in the primary election three weeks ago.

Miller went door to door in South Tampa, an area Redner won March 6, when he came in 1,031 votes behind Miller and beat four others to make the runoff.

"This is a very important election," Miller said. Tampa residents "need to go out and vote and not stay home."

Miller has campaigned as a quiet but effective leader, pointing to her 12 years on the council with three years as chairman as evidence she deserves re-election.

Redner is making his sixth run for public office. He also filed to run for City Council in 1987, but was disqualified because of a felony conviction. His civil rights were restored in the early 1990s.

He has accepted no campaign donations and has positioned himself as an independent thinker beholden to no one.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.

Fast Facts:

 

Vote from 7 to 7

Polls are open today in the city of Tampa from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters must present a picture ID. For more information on polling sites and the Tampa runoff election, call the Supervisor of Elections Office at (813) 272-5850 or visit the Web site at www.votehillsborough.org.