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Orations we'd rather not hear

By GREG HAMILTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000


Running for office often brings out the orator in a candidate. Throughout history, there have been inspiring words offered to raise the spirits of the electorate while others seek to deflate an opponent.

It's all politics, of course. The voters gain not only information -- however skewed -- about issues but also glimpses into how a candidate's thought process works and how that person will perform if given the reins of government.

This election season is no different. On the national scene, the two top dogs are saying such outrageous and contradictory things about each other that the most likely reaction among voters is confusion. Tell me again, is it Gore or Bush who will tax me into oblivion while putting my grandmother in a lock box and the chemical companies in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency?

Both presidential candidates are so busy pushing plans for how they will handle the nation's unprecedented budget surplus that neither bothers to point out that in recent weeks, Congress has spent nearly a third of that money. The bill will come due, of course, but not before Nov. 7.

That's all part of the game plan, to spin voters' heads so much they don't know what in the world to expect from a candidate. This way, anything is possible once the lucky dog gets into office.

This past week has produced its share of such magical moments on the local campaign scene as well.

Ron Schultz, an articulate and thoughtful man, managed to inject -- of all things -- racism into the campaign for property appraiser at a forum last week. That's not easy to do in a job that deals with assessments, arcane formulas and millage rates.

In answer to a general question about why there are not more minorities working at the Property Appraiser's Office, incumbent Schultz gave a specific answer about the quality of job applicants.

He thought he was addressing the atrocious lack of language skills among so many members of the local labor pool, a problem to which any employer in Citrus County could attest. Instead, he muddied up his own comments so much that many in the audience believed he was saying African-Americans do not speak English.

The more Schultz tried to explain, the worse it got. Despite being the first candidate in Citrus County ever to use the word "patois" in a forum, he alienated audience members.

Even his attempt at self-deprecation fell apart. Noting that he is communication-challenged himself, Schultz said even his own children sometimes go to their mother to translate their thoughts to him. He suggested that members of the public could go through such an intermediary, offering one-time aide Alida Langley as a possibility. Since Langley is black, the inference to some was that a black person could talk to her, and she would translate their words into English so Schultz could understand.

What in the world was he thinking? Schultz came to the Times office the day the story ran to try to clarify his remarks and intentions and to assure everyone that he is not a racist. That's called timely damage control.

Is Schultz a racist? Could he have such feelings and not even be aware of them, as many people are? Is any of this remotely relevant in a race for property appraiser? Who knows? That's the beauty of a democracy -- you, the voter, get to decide.

The lunacy continued in the District 5 county commission race, where Millie "The Rose between Two Thorns" King is portraying her Democratic opponent, Josh Wooten, as a welcome wagon for sex offenders. King reached this conclusion because Wooten's opposition to the Brown Schools, a facility for troubled teens in Lecanto, is not as strong as hers.

It's a bit of a stretch, but, hey, it's politics. And if it resonates with voters, so much the better.

This year's award for oratory excellence and diplomacy among candidates is a no-brainer, however. Crystal River City Council member Alex Ilnyckyj has a reputation for fiery rhetoric and colorful phraseology, but he outdid even himself recently.

According to a police report filed by a city employee, Ilnyckyj was so incensed that his campaign signs had been pulled from city rights-of-way that he confronted a public works official and uttered this memorable campaign promise: "If I catch the motherf---er who's f---ing with my f---ing signs, I'll break his f---ing neck!"

Ilnyckyj has denied saying this, but he should stand behind his alleged comments.

In an era when politicians are slippery as eels and their words are ambiguous at best and outright lies at worst, there can be no misunderstanding where he's coming from.

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