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    Fame comes to door of Gore's new debate adviser

    A political volunteer from Clearwater is one of the "little people'' asked to help Al Gore as he prepares for the debate.

    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Joyce E. Martin of Clearwater will help Vice President Al Gore prepare for Tuesday's debate. "This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me," she said. "I'm breathless."


    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000

    CLEARWATER -- Retiree Joyce E. Martin has been hand-picked to join about a dozen people from throughout the nation who will advise Vice President Al Gore this weekend as he prepares for the first presidential debate with Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

    The 76-year-old Clearwater resident's life has been a flurry of activity since she heard the news Monday, just hours after she met Gore at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg.

    "This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me," Martin said. "I'm breathless."

    The Gore campaign selected 14 people to join him in Sarasota as he readies for what promises to be a defining event in the 2000 presidential election. Then, Gore will fly the group to Boston, where they will attend the nationally televised debate Tuesday and sit with his wife, Tipper Gore.

    "I get plenty of advice from the experts, but I want to make sure during these important debate preparations that I stay in touch with the concerns of the people I hope to serve as president," Gore said in a statement Friday.

    Typically, debate preparations are closed-door affairs involving only high-level senior campaign advisers, said Liz Lubow, Gore's Florida press secretary who spent Thursday and Friday with Martin.

    "It's very unusual," Lubow said, taking a break in Martin's condo from typing Martin's responses to issue-oriented questions presented to her by the Gore campaign. "It's people from all walks of life. The meetings will be a real discussion of what are their concerns, what will they like to see in the debate."

    Martin was picked by Heather Wells, Gore's regional campaign director based in Clearwater. The two know each other because Martin has been a volunteer for Democratic state House candidate Ava VanNahmen, who shares office space with the Gore campaign at the Clearwater Mall.

    "I picked her because she's articulate and very up on the issues," Wells said. "She can represent the area well. She's going to do a great job."

    The excitement began for Martin on Monday, when she joined four other Floridians for a brief meeting with Gore about Medicare. When she got home, the campaign invited her to participate in the debate preparations. She said the vice president seems genuinely interested in the thoughts of ordinary citizens.

    "I was impressed with his sincerity," Martin said. "I believe he means to do what he says he's going to do. I think he honestly wants to hear from us little people."

    Thursday the New York Times interviewed Martin, and Lubow arrived at Martin's Imperial Cove condo to coordinate the buzz of media that soon would arrive.

    "She cooked for me," Lubow said smiling. "It's my first home-cooked meal on the campaign."

    Friday Martin's name appeared of the front page of the New York Times. Then, the retired federal employee who grew up in Jamaica spent the day smiling into television cameras and sharing her views on health care, crime, education and the man she wants to help win the presidency.

    "I truly believe this year is going to make or break our party," said Martin, who described herself as a Democrat "cradle to grave."

    Today, Martin will attend a luncheon to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Democratic Women's Club of Upper Pinellas. She is parliamentarian and a past president. Then she will head to Sarasota.

    Martin intends to talk with Gore and his advisers about the need to preserve Medicare, provide an affordable prescription drug plan and offer health care coverage for all Americans. Along with a heap of newspaper clippings about the election, Martin totes a handbook titled "Medicare at a Crossroads, The Gore Lieberman Plan."

    She tells a story of how she recently visited an orthopedist for pain in her left wrist. The bill was $450, but luckily, the doctor accepted a Medicare payment of $125. Health care issues, she said, must be resolved first.

    "If I didn't have Medicare, I'd never have been able to afford it," Martin said. "We've got to be healthy before we concentrate on other aspects of our lives. We should, as Americans, have access to medical care."

    Public safety and crime are also concerns for the New York-born Martin, a 35-year government employee who worked in the human resources office of the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C. Education also is important to her.

    "I'm an advocate of the basics, reading, writing and arithmetic," Martin said. "I don't believe enough emphasis is placed on them and I'd like to see a stronger bond between teachers and parents."

    After Sarasota, Martin will head to Boston, a city she has never visited. Friday afternoon, she was gathering opinions about what to wear for the big event.

    "I've been of two minds about what to wear," she said to ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28 reporter Shannon Bream during an interview. "Maybe I should ask you. I have a navy pinstripe suit. How does that sound?"

    Bream responded, "Very presidential."

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