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District 52 Florida House

This big money race pits an incumbent against the woman he defeated for the office in 1998.

By ALICIA CALDWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


It has been called the Battle of Snell Isle, or Fischer versus Farkas, Part III.

The contest for the State House 52 seat pits two candidates who know each other -- and the office -- quite well. November's election will be the third time these Snell Isle residents will have faced each other for the seat.

Democrat Margo Fischer won in 1996, but Republican Frank Farkas ousted her in 1998.

It's a big money race, as far as state House contests go -- both candidates have raised more than $100,000 -- and it has gotten somewhat testy.

Farkas has focused on Fischer's spouse -- St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer -- and has tried to link her to his performance. Farkas has said Margo Fischer uses her connection to her husband to raise money and support. It's a strategy that has drawn her ire.

"We make that comment and she gets all indignant," Farkas said. "It's almost like a double-standard. She can use him, but we can't mention it."

Fischer says Farkas' focus on her husband is a lame attempt to divert attention from what she says is his ineffective tenure in the House. Farkas, she said, routinely votes in lockstep with Republicans and rarely speaks out.

"You have to have the courage to do the right thing," she said.

Both cite education as a key issue they would focus on. A topic they each have brought up frequently is the state's A+

Plan.

The plan gives grades -- and financial rewards -- to Florida schools based on how the students at each institution perform on a variety of measures, including a standardized test.

Critics have said the A through F system unfairly penalizes schools with low-income students, which have received most of the Ds and Fs. Supporters say the plan motivates low-performing schools to do better.

Farkas supports A+.

"It needs some tweaking," Farkas said. "I think it's working great. It was major reform. All of a sudden the schools have learned that if they learn the game and improve their conditions, they will be rewarded."

Last year, 51 schools in the Tampa Bay area and the North Suncoast split $4.32-million as part of the state's School Recognition Award program.

Fischer said she has many concerns about the plan. Its reliance on standardized testing fosters an atmosphere in which teachers are pressured to forgo creative learning in favor of rote memorization.

"They're teaching the test, and I don't think that's good," Fischer said.

Given the state's good economic position, Fischer said, the Legislature ought to focus budget surpluses on reducing class sizes in public schools.

THE JOB

State House District 52 encompasses a chunk of northeast St. Petersburg, including the neighborhoods of Allendale, Crescent Lake, Fossil Park, Euclid, Old Northeast, Round Lake and Snell Isle. A map of state House districts in Pinellas County appears on Page 19. State representatives serve two-year terms and earn $27,900 annually.

REPUBLICAN

FRANK FARKAS, 44, is a St. Petersburg chiropractor who won the District 52 House seat from Margo Fischer two years ago. Born in Milwaukee, Farkas moved to St. Petersburg in 1972. He graduated from St. Pete Catholic High School, received an associate's degree from St. Petersburg Junior College in 1976, a doctor of chiropractic degree from Palmer College in 1979 and a bachelor's degree in health management from Eckerd College in 1993. He has been a practicing chiropractor since graduating. He is a member of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, the Snell Isle Property Association and the Florida Chiropractic Association. He is married to Toni Farkas, and has two children. ASSETS: home, office building, chiropractic business, stocks, cash. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: chiropractic business, legislative salary and rental income. WEB SITE: http://www.votefarkas.com.

DEMOCRAT

MARGO FISCHER, 54, is a retired investment banker and financial adviser who represented District 52 for two years until being unseated by Frank Farkas in 1998. Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Fischer moved to St. Petersburg in 1956. She graduated from St. Paul High School in St. Petersburg, and worked as a flight attendant, loan clerk and administrative assistant. She attended St. Petersburg Junior College before going to Eckerd College and receiving a bachelor's degree in 1984. She was a founding member of the Pinellas School Advisory Council Association, and for four years served as education committee chairwoman for the St. Petersburg chapter of the League of Women Voters. She is married to David Fischer, St. Petersburg's mayor, and together they have four children. ASSETS: home, retirement account, boat and cash. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: investment income, husband's salary. WEB SITE: http://www.margofischer.com.

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