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    Nader pounds corporate politics

    The Green Party candidate bemoans the corporate influence and pushes "a new progressive movement.''


    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2000

    TAMPA -- At the Crowne Plaza Hotel, another business day had begun. In a meeting room, sales representatives were learning about life insurance.

    "Why ask about life insurance?" an overhead projector flashed on the screen.

    In the room next to the insurance agents training for corporate America, a totally different scene played out. Ralph Nader, presidential candidate, was denouncing what the business structure stood for.

    The 66-year-old lawyer running on the Green Party ticket pounded away during a campaign stop Friday in Tampa at the issues that he said corporate America ignores: a national health care system, the legalization of drugs and a tax on stock transactions.

    "What this whole campaign is about is building a new progressive movement," Nader told a small gathering of reporters at the hotel.

    Nader also challenged Vice President Al Gore to take a position on building a new airport at Homestead Air Force Base in South Florida, which Nader opposes. Environmentalists say the new airport will harm Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park.

    "Al Gore speaks about environmentalism, but bows to corporatism," Nader said. "There is no doubt about my commitment to environmental causes."

    Karl Koch, a Gore strategist in Florida, said Friday it would be inappropriate for Gore to take a stand because of an ongoing study by the White House's Council on Environmental Quality.

    As Nader jabbed away at Gore, a few local reporters took notes. But no one from the national media was there. There were no security sweeps of the hotel and no campaign plane waiting on the tarmac at Tampa International.

    Nader was not deterred. He talked on and on, like a college professor fascinated by his subject matter. And in the audience, three college students followed Nader in rapt attention.

    One Nader supporter had a pierced lip and streaked her black hair red. Another wore an untucked Neil Diamond T-shirt and sideburns.

    Nader wore a plain blue suit, a solid red tie and closely cropped gray hair.

    Jack Donnelly, 27, had come to the 9:30 a.m. Nader news conference after working all night in Tampa. He raised his hand to ask Nader a question.

    Nader looked at Donnelly and his two tattoos and a ponytail. "Are you a member of the press?" Nader asked.

    No, Donnelly replied.

    Then, Nader told him, he could not ask a question. "This is really a press conference."

    Afterward, Donnelly said he didn't mind Nader's slight.

    The question he had wanted to ask was how quickly would Nader, if elected president, decriminalize drugs.

    "Hopefully, it would be pretty fast," Donnelly said.

    - David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or Times Political Editor Tim Nickens contributed to this report.

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