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Putting their trust -- and their child -- in candidate's hands

By DAVID KARP and ANGELA MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


Emilio Lefler eats politics for breakfast.

Born in Ybor City to a second-generation Spanish family, Lefler, 71, has for years been a member of a group of like-minded men that calls itself the West Tampa Breakfast Club. They even endorse candidates. But until Wednesday, the former workaholic pharmacist had never met a presidential candidate.

Lefler was "thrilled to death" when Al Gore shook his hand after his campaign rally in downtown Tampa. But his 5-month-old grandson, Joseph, topped him.

That was Joseph captured in a photograph on the front page of Thursday's St. Petersburg Times, hoisted in the air by a beaming Al Gore.

Lefler went to Wednesday's Gore rally at the downtown Lykes Gaslight Square Park with his wife, Janice, his daughter, Linda, and her two sons, Peter, 6, and Joseph. After Gore's speech, Lefler picked up Peter and headed toward the stage to shake Gore's hand. His daughter followed, carrying Joseph. After Lefler and Peter shook hands with Gore, the vice president reached for Joseph.

"People were passing him overhead like a potato," Lefler said. "We were all thrilled. Pete told his teachers today, "That's my brother in the paper.' "

CONTRIBUTE OFTEN AND EARLY: County Commissioner Ben Wacksman hosted a spaghetti dinner in June for his re-election campaign and dozens of people turned out. One supporter was Manuela Failde, who gave Wacksman $20 cash, according to his campaign report.

There's just one problem:

She was dead at the time.

Ms. Failde, 91, a lab technician and lifelong Tampa resident, died March 27. Wacksman's campaign report states that she gave $20 on June 16.

"She did not give Ben Wacksman's campaign a contribution of anything," said Paul Morton, who is married to Ms. Failde's only surviving relative in Tampa. "That's an absolute lie."

Ms. Failde was bedridden from cancer in her Beach Park home for more than six months before her death, Morton said.

"I can assure you Ben Wacksman would never receive one penny from the Mortons," said Morton, who last month gave $50 to Wacksman's opponent, Republican Stacey Lyn Easterling.

Easterling wondered Thursday how Wacksman could explain the contribution. "I have backed 100 percent the things I have done," Easterling said. "Now I stand here, and I would like to see how he would defend the indefensible."

Wacksman promised Thursday to return the money to Ms. Failde's family if he confirms that it was given falsely. Giving a campaign donation in someone's else name is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine or a year in jail.

"If something like this occurred in a campaign where you have close to 1,000 contributors, this would be an honest mistake," Wacksman said. "We take full responsibility for it."

BE WARNED: On Wednesday night, scores of voters received phone calls from people claiming to work for Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio.

The callers, who claimed to work for the "elections commissioner," told voters who had requested absentee ballots that the ballots had not been received.

"I was horrified," said Elizabeth Sullivan, an 85-year-old Sun City Center retiree, who got one of the calls.

Iorio said her office did not place the calls -- and wouldn't. "I don't know who is doing this, but it's not right," Iorio said. "It is just unacceptable to have someone passing themselves off as election officials."

Her office got about 15 calls from confused voters, and a group working for the George W. Bush campaign heard about the calls, too. The calls made some voters think that their absentee ballots had been lost in the mail.

"There is something screwy about this," said Sullivan.

- Times staff writers David Karp and Angela Moore were on Spin Patrol.

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