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Foes in runoff stir little excitement

Sen. James Hargrett Jr. and Commissioner Tom Scott face off in Hillsborough's only race on the ballot Tuesday.

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000


TAMPA -- Come sit a minute with Eddie Nunn Sr. outside his barber shop on Osborne Avenue.

Nunn, a retired mechanic who repaired refrigerators for 18 years, lives in one of the key precincts in the Democratic runoff for the County Commission.

The view from his front yard is typical of the district that will vote Tuesday: Homes are small, many windows have bars on them, and stores, like the corner stand on 40th Street, are run by neighbors, not salesmen with name tags.

Nunn knows both candidates in Tuesday's runoff: state Sen. James Hargrett Jr. and Commissioner Tom Scott. Like many voters, he doesn't have much good to say about either one.

"You hope you get the right candidates," he said. "And sometimes you don't."

That comment pretty much sums up the dim enthusiasm for both candidates running for the District 3 seat, which represents working-class neighborhoods such as Progress Village, College Hill and Seminole Heights.

Democrats will choose between Scott and Hargrett in the only election on the ballot in Hillsborough County on Tuesday. Turnout could be as low as 10 percent, meaning the victor will probably need as few as 2,500 votes to win.

The winner faces strip club owner Joe Redner, a Libertarian, in the November general election. But Tuesday's runoff will probably seal the final outcome; the district has never elected anyone but a Democrat.

Nunn, doesn't like what he has read about Scott, a pastor of the 34th Street Church of God. Scott accepted $15,000 for his church from a businessman trying to get a lucrative contract at Tampa General Hospital. Scott said he spent the money on his church, but he has never showed where the money went.

The FBI is investigating the donation. Scott denies any wrongdoing.

"To do something like that leads me to believe (Scott) is just like the rest of them," said Dorothy Reed, a retired teacher who lives in Belmont Heights. "It shows he can be easily purchased. . . . And he is supposed to be a man of the cloth."

Then again, Reed doesn't like Hargrett much either, even though she has known his family for years.

"I don't trust Hargrett," said Reed, who is not related to Betty Reed, a former candidate in the race who endorsed Hargrett. "I don't believe in people being wishy-washy to suit their needs."

She's referring to Hargrett's endorsement of Republican Jeb Bush for governor in 1998. Hargrett backed Bush, saying the Democrats had forgotten about the inner city.

This weekend, with the election up in the air, both candidates are pulling out all the stops.

Scott raised $117,802 for the race, getting $500 contributions from powerful Republicans, development lawyers and companies that do business with the county. He has used the money to blanket mailboxes with attacks on Hargrett.

"Who's side is Jim Hargrett on, anyway?" one ad says. It criticizes Hargrett for endorsing Bush.

State Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, who led a sit-in at the Capitol over Bush's One Florida affirmative action plan, also taped radio ads against Hargrett that should air this weekend.

Scott, meanwhile, is telling voters to stay with a local official who knows the job. He talks about his accessibility and his workdays spent learning county government.

Hargrett, who served in the Legislature for 18 years, has gone on the offensive too. He reminded voters about the federal investigation ofScott and criticized Scott's vote to privatize Tampa General Hospital.

In a mailer, Hargrett warned voters to ignore Scott's "desperate" attacks this weekend. "Don't believe him!" the flier says.

Hargrett, instead, has campaigned as someone who "brings home the bacon" from the GOP-controlled Legislature.

He takes credit for getting $25-million for roads and $25-million for economic development for poor neighborhoods. He also passed a bill that required the School Board to spend 25 percent of its construction money in the inner city.

Hargrett's wide name recognition may help him in the end. He edged out Scott in a three-person primary in September, beating him by about 700 votes.

"I had a neighborhood concern," said Georgia Johnson, sitting on her screened-in porch in Progress Village. "And (Hargrett) personally called me back. . . . That's what I want to see: some results."

In the primary, where black voters cast 59 percent of the votes, Hargrett and Scott almost split the precincts with a majority of black voters. Scott won 18 black precincts, and Hargrett won 16. But Hargrett won 30 precincts with a majority of white voters. Scott won onlytwo white precincts.

Reed, the schoolteacher, said Friday that she will probably vote for Hargrett. She described him as "the lesser of two evils."

"I shouldn't say this," she said. "I really don't want either of them elected."

- David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

The job

Commissioners approve a $2-billion budget, run the Environmental Protection Commission, approve local ordinances and decide all zoning issues. District 3 includes Palm River, Seminole Heights and east Tampa. The commissioner will serve a two-year term and earn an estimated annual salary of $79,074.

Democrats

JAMES T. "JIM" HARGRETT JR., 58, served in the state Legislature for 18 years before term limits prevented him from running for re-election this year. First elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, he served five terms and was the first chairman of the House Public Transportation Committee. In 1992, Hargrett won election to the state Senate and was re-elected in 1996. In the Senate, he served as chairman of the Transportation Committee. Born in Tampa, Hargrett is president of Bay Area Concessions Inc. He has a bachelor's degree from Morehouse College and a master's of business administration from Atlanta University. He is married and has two children. ASSETS: stocks, mutual funds, real estate, vehicles. LIABILITIES: loans, credit cards. SOURCE OF INCOME: salaries, rental income.

THOMAS SCOTT, 47, has represented District 3 on the County Commission since 1996. He is senior pastor of the 34th Street Church of God and president of King's Kids Christian Academy, a non-profit child care center. He was born in Sandersville, Ga., and in 1979 received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of North Florida. He is married and has three children. ASSETS: bank accounts, certificates of deposit, investments, loans, vehicles, real estate. LIABILITIES: loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: salaries.

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