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Gallup polls got nothing on this writer

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By HOWARD TROXLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then. So it happens that I, your humble and dutiful correspondent, correctly predicted Rick Baker and Kathleen Ford would be the top two survivors of Tuesday's crowded mayoral primary in St. Petersburg.

No gloating, of course.

It would be ungracious to lord it over that courageous cadre of readers who wrote in to share their own inaccurate predictions. Of some three dozen of them, only three -- three! -- agreed with a Baker-Ford call.

Sure, Baker was an easy enough guess. Everybody said it would be Baker. Little children on the street murmured his name in nursery rhymes. Lovers whispered it in the park. It was printed on hamburger wrappers. Only the grumpy few, the contrarians, the same ones who chose to bet against the Yankees in last year's World Series, omitted Baker from their top two picks.

It was predicting the other that was the trick -- the quinella bet. The lion's share of the readers' predictions were for Karl Nurse, who finished fourth, a solid and qualified man, a small-business owner, a neighborhood association leader, a member of the Planning Commission. He is the kind of man, as my female friends say of certain men, that you know you would be safe to date and marry, although the other guy with the motorcycle and tattoos is more exciting.

Even Larry Williams, who like Ford is a member of the City Council, was the crowd's slight favorite for third place behind Baker and Nurse. You gotta hand it to Williams -- he ran a strong third, much stronger than a lot of people, including me, predicted. This is no solace to him or his family this morning, but they did a great job and believed in themselves instead of caring what the conventional wisdom downtown was.

Besides my own lucky stab, three other entrants correctly foresaw a Baker-Ford showdown on March 27.

My favorite of these was Arnie Patterson, a winter resident of St. Petersburg for more than 15 years and a summer resident of Nova Scotia. He wrote to tell me that over the past week he conducted his own amateur poll, admittedly unscientific, at the Publix supermarket on 34th Street S. I am imagining this guy approaching complete strangers clutching their broccoli.

"In total, I polled 180 people, which I realize is a light sample," Patterson wrote to me, "and yet strangely my results in large part mirrored yours." His results: Baker, 33 percent, Ford 23 percent, then the rest.

Being a thorough man, he asked the follow-up question: Which of those two would you vote for in March? Ford trounced Baker, 57 to 43 percent -- and black respondents, a quarter of his survey, preferred Ford by 80 percent!

"Further, I specifically asked people what they liked or disliked about the two candidates in question. On the dislike basis, most thought Baker was simply a tool of the city's power brokers and elite, and that he had too much money. Ms. Ford was seen as too critical of city staff and was also viewed as somewhat of a negative person.

"On the "like' side, most thought Mr. Baker intelligent but felt he had little real experience on council. Several suggested he would be better off to run simply for council first before trying out for the mayor's chair.

"I hate to sound chauvinist, but one continuing mention I got about Ms. Ford was that she was the best-looking of the candidates. Further, they thought she would represent a wider viewpoint on council than her expected opponent. Also she got high marks for her performance on council."

I make no warranty for Mr. Patterson's freelance field research. However, if he is right about black voters, it looks like Baker's friendship with Gov. Jeb Bush is a killer -- they so resent Bush and the Republican Party that they would rather vote for a woman who is a credible threat to fire the city's first black police chief! Wow.

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