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These folks are smooth, cool and adept at adapting

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By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


Thirty pounds ago, when I was in college, Teddy Pendergrass was one of those soulful balladeers you could always count on to set the right mood. Just think, three of his biggest hits were Come Go With Me, Close the Door and Turn Off the Lights.

You can still count on him, but with two kids, I don't get as many opportunities to set the mood.

Anyway, Pendergrass' career has continued over the years despite a 1982 auto accident that left him using a wheelchair. He has set up the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, which raises scholarship money for the disabled.

Thanks to Tampa's Greg Smith, you can get a firsthand account of Pendergrass' story today at 6 p.m. on WHNZ-AM 1250. Smith, who relocated to Tampa from Dayton, Ohio, last year, is host of On a Roll, a nationally syndicated show aimed at people with disabilities.

Smith said he can relate to Pendergrass in a way others can't. He has muscular dystrophy and also uses a wheelchair.

* * *

Hillsborough Democratic Party leader Mike Scionti is one of several people circulating a petition around the state to "encourage" Bill McBride to run for governor.

McBride, the managing partner of mega-size law firm Holland & Knight, is one of several considering a campaign. But Scionti believes McBride is the best of a potential group of candidates that includes U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, and former USF president Betty Castor.

Scionti said the draft will continue to be circulated until McBride makes a decision, which will probably come at the end of the summer.

I just wonder how many of those Bush-connected attorneys at his own firm are going to sign up.

* * *

Speaking of Castor, I finally got a chance to introduce myself to her at Thursday night's Judeo-Christian Health Clinic dinner, so I asked whether she was running against Gov. Jeb Bush. Castor began to answer, but before I knew it, she was introducing me to other dignitaries at the charity, such as Sheriff Cal Henderson and the zoo director.

Castor was incredibly affable and completely charming, introducing me as if we had known each other for years. I kept thinking, "She's cool."

It was not until I sat down at my table that I realized she had never answered my question about her potential campaign.

Now that's really cool.

* * *

I don't know who would win if local superstars Fred Johnson and Belinda Womack had a singing contest, but I bet you it would go into overtime. Johnson performed at the health clinic dinner Thursday night, and Womack took the stage at the recent Joshua House luncheon. Neither missed a note.

* * *

Scenario: You own all the McDonald's restaurants in Tampa. To gauge quality at each restaurant, you give customers a survey. A test, if you will.

Now, what would you do to solve the problem at the low-scoring McDonald's? Well, if you favor school vouchers, you would give those customers money to go to Burger King.

I keep hearing Bush say he wants government to operate with more business efficiency, but no businessman would take his primary resource, money, and give it to a competitor. The state is in the business of education, and in the final days of the legislative session, I hope they can come up with a solution that makes business sense, instead of a tax break in disguise.

* * *

Pendergrass can still bring down the house down with one of his classics, and Smith's national show has been on the air for eight years, thanks in part to his silky voice. For two supposedly disabled guys, they seem pretty able to me.

* * *

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com. His column appears on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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