By DAN DeWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000
Incumbent David Russell, R-Brooksville, had a seemingly unbeatable lead over Democratic challenger Gregory Williams in the District 44 House of Representatives race Tuesday night.
His margin of victory, however, was not as wide as some had expected, considering he raised $143,000 from a varity of statewide sources -- more than twice as much Williams.
Russell, 45, attributed the relatively slim victory to a surge of support for Democrats.
"There seemed to be a Democratic trend, as was evidenced by other races in the county," he said.
Williams, 40, said the results in District 44, along with the election of another African-American candidate -- Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams -- were proof that race now plays little part in Hernando elections.
"The only comment I have: I am extremely proud of the voters, especially in Hernando County, that they have put away the myth that an African-American cannot win here," Williams said.
Other than a recent infusion of more than $10,000 from the Florida Democratic Party, Williams received relatively little support from the state party. Part of the reason, according to some other local party members, was that state party leaders did not think a black candidate could win here.
District 44 covers parts of Hernando, Pasco, Lake, Polk and Sumter counties.
During the race, Russell said his large contributions were typical for incumbents in a majority party.
His victory means he is well-placed to influence big decisions in Tallahassee, he said.
Russell said he expects to be named chairman of a transportation-related committee. He also will have a strong voice in redistricting, the process, scheduled for 2002, of deciding the lines for state legislative districts as well as for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Williams, on the other hand, had said Russell is a servant of special interests. Russell has consistently voted for business interests over consumer rights, he said. And, in the redistricting process, Russell will have to give way to more powerful legislators.