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3 races raise interest of black voters

By ANGELA MOORE and CURTIS KRUEGER

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


TAMPA -- Ernestine G. Ponder has been helping people vote for more than 40 years, and she knows African-Americans once were barred from the polling place.

So she had loads of respect for a certain woman who braved the rain to cast her ballot on Tuesday, perhaps remembering the days she would not have been allowed to vote.

"We had a woman who walked here in the rain today, and she was 92 years old," said Ponder, elections clerk in predominantly black Precinct 313, in College Hill. "She just carried her little umbrella and walked down the street. She remembers how it was."

But others seemed to take Election Day lightly. Elections officials said turnout was low overall in Hillsborough and other Tampa Bay counties on Tuesday, as fierce rains kept less dedicated voters away.

In Precinct 313, Ponder said the attention focused on three races that featured African-American candidates: the House 59 seat, the District 3 County Commission slot and the District 21 state Senate seat.

"That's the story today," said Pam Iorio, Hillsborough County supervisor of elections. "In many parts of Hillsborough, the turnout has been very, very small. But in predominantly African-American precincts, where there are three hotly contested races, we're likely to see turnout upwards of 25 percent (of registered voters).

"The ballot determines turnout. With no major statewide races this Tuesday, voters were left with local races which are extremely important but do not attract as many voters," she said. "But those three races have attracted a lot of attention in the African-American community because the candidates have been out there debating and going door-to-door. People are aware of these races, and they're out there voting."

At certain times Tuesday, the rain caused troubles even for committed voters. In Pasco County, rain pelted down so sharply it even kept Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning temporarily away from his polling place. He couldn't get out of his car.

"I sat out front for five minutes, then I said, "Let's blow this. I'll come back later,' " he said.

The light overall turnout came in spite of a new provision in the state Constitution that opens primaries to additional voters.

For example in Pinellas County, three candidates, all Republicans, were seeking the sheriff's office. Under the new "universal primary" provision, all registered voters were allowed to vote in that race. Under the old rules, only Republicans would have gotten that chance.

Throughout the Tampa Bay area, the universal primary seemed to be getting nearly universal acclaim.

"It's important that all people have an opportunity to vote for people across the board," said LeRoy Flemmings Jr., 57, a retired music educator from St. Petersburg. Although he is a lifelong Democrat, he was able to vote among the three GOP hopefuls for sheriff.

"I'm glad to have the opportunity to do that," he said.

- Times staff writer Collins Conner contributed to this report.

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Paper: Date: 9/06/00 +

Page: 3B Section: TAMPA BAY+

Byline: Times staff writer Headline: Tampa Bay briefs+

Notes:

First local lawsuit against tobacco begin

TAMPA -- Lawyers gave opening statements Tuesday in the first smoker's lawsuit to proceed against a major tobacco manufacturer in the Tampa Bay area.

A Temple Terrace man says the death of his 63-year-old wife, Suzanne M. Jones, from cancer in 1995 is directly attributable to her 40 years of smoking. He and his attorney, Howard Acosta of St. Petersburg, are seeking unspecified damages.

In their opening statement, attorneys for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. denied responsibility for Mrs. Jones' death. They said Mrs. Jones was aware of the risks of smoking yet chose to smoke. They also said her cancer was not caused by smoking.

On Friday, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. was dropped as a defendant from the suit. Acosta said one of the reasons was to focus the case on Reynolds. Brown & Williamson attorneys said they paid no money to be dropped as a defendant, maintaining their policy of not settling individual smokers' claims.

Holiday traffic fatalities are fewer than expected

Fewer people than expected died on Florida roads over the Labor Day weekend.

Based on the previous three years, the Florida Highway Patrol expected 31 people to die in Florida auto accidents from Friday through Monday. But the preliminary death toll from the holiday weekend stands at 20.

Locally, two pedestrians and a driver died in three separate accidents.

A 55-year-old man was hit by a car and killed Friday night while walking along Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill in Hernando County.

A 70-year-old Tampa woman died Saturday morning after she lost control of her car and hit a tree along N Himes Avenue north of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

And a 49-year-old Pinellas man died Monday night when he was hit by a car as he tried to cross Park Boulevard in Pinellas Park.

Statewide, 20 people died in 18 car crashes.

Libertarian candidate visits Tampa tonight

TAMPA -- Tired of hearing George W. Bush and Al Gore trade barbs on the campaign trail? There are other options, and Harry Browne is one of them.

Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate for president, makes a campaign stop in Tampa today. He'll be the main guest at a reception at the Sheraton Suites Hotel, 4400 W Cypress St., from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Browne will speak after the reception. Browne's Web site suggests he offers a stark contrast to Gore and Bush.

He says he wants to end the "fraudulent" Social Security system and provide an annual, private annuity to those already dependent on it. Browne advocates pulling the United States from all international organizations, bringing American troops home from their overseas assignments "where they breed anti-American resentment," ending the war on drugs and repealing gun control laws.

Tonight's event is free and open to the public.

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