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District 50 field shapes up
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 22, 2000
CLEARWATER -- Four candidates, three of whom have never run for a state Legislature seat, are campaigning to replace state Rep. John Morroni, who is being forced out by term limits this year.
At stake is District 50, which sprawls across parts of Clearwater and Dunedin, unincorporated areas such as Feather Sound along Old Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg's Shore Acres subdivision.
Two Republicans -- Clearwater Commissioner Ed Hooper and Clearwater resident Kim Berfield -- have filed papers to face off in a Sept. 5 primary to vie for the seat.
The primary winner could take on Democrat Ava VanNahmen, a Feather Sound resident and public relations consultant who recently announced her campaign. Ernest Bach, a former Largo city commissioner, is running as an unaffiliated candidate.
The deadline to qualify to run for the District 50 seat still is one month away.
Hooper, 52, who has served as a city commissioner for five years, has the biggest campaign war chest, with about $40,000 expected by June's end.
The retired Clearwater fire lieutenant has been on the campaign trail for nine months, meeting with community groups and lining up endorsements from state lobbying organizations. (Hooper also lobbies part-time in Tallahassee on behalf of the Florida Professional Firefighters.)
Hooper said he will announce his resignation from the City Commission in July, effective Nov. 7, the day of this fall's general election. Clearwater then will hold a special election to fill the remaining year of his term.
Hooper is focusing on education, economic development, transportation, public safety and senior citizens' needs. He wants to find a way to reward teachers whose students show marked improvements and obtain more federal and state funds to improve U.S. 19.
The other Republican contender is Berfield, 29, who had raised about $17,140 for her campaign by the last report filed in March. Berfield, who has worked as a television reporter for WVC-TV Ch. 9, is president of the North Pinellas Republican Club and is involved in numerous other community groups.
It won't be the first time the names Hooper and Berfield have been beside each other on a ballot. Hooper ousted Berfield's mother, Sue, from her seat on the City Commission five years ago.
Berfield's parents, both former commissioners, oppose a sweeping downtown redevelopment initiative in Clearwater -- a project Hooper supports. Berfield also has concerns because it involves leasing chunks of public land downtown for 99 years to developers and the complete terms of the agreement aren't yet known.
VanNahmen, 45, the only Democrat so far, said it is quite realistic that District 50 -- a Republican-held seat since its creation eight years ago -- can be won this year by a Democrat. Republicans have a slight edge in the district's population, but about 20 percent of voters in the area are not affiliated with either party. VanNahmen, who has two sons in local public schools, plans to make improving education a key issue in her campaign. She also will stand for preserving the environment and making mental health care more accessible.
VanNahmen has a master's degree in public administration and has held jobs doing public and government relations work for the Tampa Port Authority, St. Petersburg Junior College and Largo. She has worked as a substitute teacher and served on boards of non-profit groups such as the Tampa Bay Harvest food bank.
The final candidate in the race could be Bach, 63, who ran unsuccessfully for the House District 51 seat in 1998. He doesn't yet live in District 50 but plans to move into the district if elected.
Bach, a former Largo city commissioner, works as executive director of the Florida Action Coalition Team, a group of consumer and activist organizations from throughout the state that lobbies on numerous issues. Bach also has been a spokesman for the Florida Silver Haired Legislature on some issues that affect senior citizens, such as better access to cheaper, generic prescription drugs.
He is a founding member of a group called People Over Politics, which is seeking to have state Legislature districts redrawn by an independent, non-political committee that will not gerrymander.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.