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Easterling says knocking on doors helped her win

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000


TAMPA -- Stacey Lyn Easterling entered the race for a County Commission seat knowing it wouldn't be easy. She faced a respected incumbent with deep pockets and popular views.

To get her message out, Easterling decided to campaign door-to-door until her feet gave out or she met every voter.

Her strategy paid off. On Tuesday, the 30-year-old Republican beat Democratic Commissioner Ben Wacksman for the District 1 seat representing South Tampa and Town 'N Country.

"I'm not surprised by the win, but I wouldn't have been surprised by the loss," said a jubilant Easterling, who spent most of Wednesday fielding calls from supporters. She also cleaned her condo, which "looked like a frat house" from the victory party.

A Hillsborough County native, Easterling began campaigning April 1 and never let up. By Election Day, she had knocked on the doors of more than 10,800 houses and stopped a lot of joggers, she said.

"Nobody was safe," she joked.

The former assistant state attorney walked neighborhoods every day but Sundays in the same shoes she wore as a waitress in college.

"I was operating on time and manpower because I didn't have the money," she said. "I had to go out there and outwalk him."

Easterling was outspent by more than 2-to-1 in her first bid for public office. Wacksman, 38, raised about $187,000, a lot of which went toward cable advertising and mailings.

Wacksman was appointed to the commission by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1998. He now plans to revive his real estate company, WP Commercial Inc., which he put on hold after his appointment.

During the campaign, Wacksman accused Easterling of distorting his record and attacking him in fliers. Her biggest backer, Sam Rashid, also bought several Web sites with Wacksman's name to keep him from using them.

Easterling's friends say she won on her own merits.

"She put a lot of hard work into it," said Kathy Schklair, a chiropractor in Fort Lauderdale who graduated with Easterling from the University of Florida in 1992. "She's focused, and she's ambitious."

Easterling's victory put the Republicans in control of the commission, but she's not likely to play politics, some say.

"I think she has a very independent mind," said Melodie Mabanta, a law school friend. "I don't think she will be easily swayed by politics."

Now an attorney in Baltimore, Mabanta has fond memories of Easterling from their days at Loyola University in New Orleans. She describes Easterling as an intelligent, kind-hearted person who once nursed a stray, hurt dog back to health.

Easterling worked as a prosecutor for four years under the late Hillsborough State Attorney Harry Lee Coe, a supporter of Wacksman's. She quit in March to run for the commission seat, causing a rift between Coe and Easterling's mother, who was Coe's human resources director and friend.

A longtime Democrat, Easterling's mother sent a letter to voters urging them to vote for her Republican daughter. She said her daughter shares many of the principles and passions of the Democratic Party.

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