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    Senate fight gets close, personal

    As a Senate candidate decries sleazy politics, her opponent crashes her news conference and a nasty quarrel begins.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- State Rep. Janegale Boyd had just declared her race for the Florida Senate to be one of the nastiest in state history Friday when things suddenly got much worse.

    Her opponent in a Democratic runoff election, Rep. Al Lawson, a 6-foot-71/2 former basketball player, walked into the room, crashing thenews conference the 5-foot-31/2 Boyd had called to complain about a television advertising campaign that blames her for the Firestone tire disaster.

    "You are running ads that insinuate racism into this campaign," Lawson, who is black, said to Boyd as she asked him to stop the Firestone campaign that is heavily supported by the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers. "You are lying to the public. I won't stand back and take this abuse."

    Lawson said he had nothing to do with the Firestone ads, which feature the widow of a man killed in an accident involving the recalled tires and say Boyd made it harder for victims' families to hold corporations accountable. But he would not ask that they be removed from the air unless Boyd decides to pull a commercial that suggests Lawson's failure to vote for enhanced criminal penalties for juveniles had something to do with the death of a Wakulla County couple's son and his fiancee.

    "It's like Willie Horton all over," Lawson said. "It's outrageous. Someone lost their kids, and you say if I voted for that bill, they'd be alive today. The implication is I'm not tough on crime, and we don't care about people who lose their loved ones."

    Lawson, from Tallahassee, and Boyd, from Monticello, face each other in the Oct. 3 runoff for the Democratic nomination for a Senate seat in an 11-county area that includes many of the rural counties around the state capital. The seat formerly was held by Quincy Democrat Pat Thomas, who died in June.

    As Lawson's voice rose in anger, Boyd left her own news conference. But Lawson, trailed by a horde of reporters, followed her outside to continue the spontaneous debate.

    "I won't throw mud, but I won't let them walk over me," Lawson said after Boyd left. "I played in the mud as a kid. I'm not going to play in the mud as an adult."

    Later Boyd accused Lawson of making the racism charges to cover up his own participation in the Firestone ads.

    "There is nothing racist in my ads," Boyd said. "It was a white-on-white crime. It's not about race. He just didn't want to discuss the issues."

    Boyd said some of her consultants suggested putting a picture of Lawson in the ad, but she refused because she feared it might be interpreted as racist.

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    From the Times state desk