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A Times Editorial

Hillsborough commission

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 27, 2000

Ben Wacksman has brought intelligence and reason to county government since being appointed two years ago to fill an unexpired term. His balanced agenda reflects the needs of the west Hillsborough County district. No other commissioner works harder or better understands the problems of ordinary people.

Wacksman, 38, distinguishes himself by leading on issues most other commissioners duck. He helped build a coalition to improve area roads, a responsible move that generated predictable flak from self-serving Republican colleagues. Wacksman proposed several good measures to benefit seniors and children. His career in the private sector makes Wacksman a sound voice on county management. He has helped coordinate social and safety services for children with the schools and sheriff, sought to close the loophole on unregulated gun sales and worked to tighten consumer protections against loan sharks and scam artists in the moving industry.

His Republican challenger, Stacey Lyn Easterling, 30, worked four years as a prosecutor in Hillsborough. Having no substantial record of community service, she relies on anti-tax platitudes and wrongly tags Wacksman as "an entrenched liberal." Many Democrats actually fault Wacksman for being too accommodating to business.

For District 1, the Times recommends Ben Wacksman.

* * *

Thomas Scott for District 3

This race pits a preacher against a strip-club king. The incumbent, the Rev. Thomas Scott, has his faults, but he is a far better choice for the district than Joe Redner, a Libertarian.

Scott, a Democrat, has represented this east and south county district since first winning election in 1996. He made two major mistakes, first by voting to privatize Tampa General Hospital without adequate oversight and then by lying about helping a donor to his church solicit hospital business. Still, Scott has been an accessible and hands-on commissioner for his community. By comparison, Redner is a tiring distraction in Tampa's political scene. He offers no real agenda and no record of community service. It remains to be seen whether Scott has learned from his ethical misjudgment and naivete. But Scott's pledge to spur redevelopment, increase job training and expand access to health care in Tampa's inner city is the right agenda for the district.

For District 3, the Times recommends Thomas Scott.

Jan Platt for District 6

Democrat Jan Platt was the better choice in this race long before Republican challenger Joe Chillura started distorting her record. Platt, 64, has served her community with distinction for nearly 30 years, as a volunteer for children, the environment and other causes and as a public official of conscience. She was an early advocate of Florida's open-government laws, decent housing and health care for seniors and the poor.

Platt is a no-nonsense commissioner who earned the moniker "Commissioner No" from downtown big shots used to getting their way. And while many elected officials fob themselves off as environmentalists, Platt took a lead in cleaning Tampa Bay, protecting Egmont Key and in preserving the Hillsborough River.

Their experience on Tampa's City Council and the commission gives both candidates a commanding grasp of local issues. But Chillura, 61, has pandered to conservatives in recent years with gratuitous assaults on civil rights and county spending. His knack for championing phony issues has made Chillura divisive, a trait this split commission hardly needs. His claim that Platt "voted" to support a utility tax is not only inaccurate but also hypocritical from a man who designed a sales tax in part to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The countywide race is open to all Hillsborough voters. The Times recommends Jan Platt.

Opportunity to reply

The Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates in the races discussed today should send in their replies no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. (E-mail:; Fax: 893-8675). Replies are limited to 250 words.

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