Economic Development, Buckhorn-style

By George Niemann

Daily Loaf contributor, R-LAND, UCAN, FSP activist, and Floriday Hometown Democracy believer

The views expressed are my own and my not necessarily be the same as the organizations to which I belong

Subtitle:  Tampa Politics – The Dirty Little Secret.

It’s the day of the big runoff between Ferlita and Buckhorn for Mayor of Tampa.  I discovered something today that I didn’t know going into this election – the Buckhorn campaign is buying coverage at polling stations.  What’s worse is that it appears that he’s buying poll campaigning in predominantly black areas.

 First, let it be known that I am a Ferlita supporter.  I went to do some poll campaigning in the Seminole Heights section of Tampa.  At the polling station (#327, 330) Epiphany of Our Land Church Church I happened to meet a Buckhorn campaigner and a Curtis Stokes campaigner.  Things started out seeming normal for an election day at a polling station. Each car that would pull in, the two campaigners were out there yelling out their candidates name and trying to talk to each voter before they went inside the polling station to cast their vote.  They seemed pretty diligent.  Then the Stokes campaigner, Charlie Cyles, asked me how much I was getting for campaigning today.  I told him I was a volunteer and that no one got paid for campaigning at polls on election day, or at least that’s what I thought was the case.  So I said to him, “you’re not getting paid for this, are you?  He said, “I sure am.  Everyone is getting paid.  I’m getting $100 for the day, plus food”. He points to the Buckhorn campaigner and says she's getting paid also.  I thought, this guy must be making it up.  I’ve worked at polling stations for many campaigns and no one ever said they were getting paid.

A voter walks up to the Stokes campaigner and asks him, “which race is Stokes in?...Who is he running against?”  The Stokes campaigner answers, “I don’t know who his opponent is.  I just know that Stokes is good and you should vote for him”.

I was really curious now.  I walked over to the Buckhorn campaigner, Shirelle Johnson.  I asked her why she was here and was she getting paid.  She answered, “Of course I’m getting paid.  I’ve been ‘working’ the Epiphany polling station for the last 15 years.  I’m here because I get paid and I wouldn’t be if I didn’t get paid.  I don’t care who gets elected”.  I asked if all the polling stations in the area had paid Buckhorn campaigners.  She said, “Of course.  In this area every poll campaigner gets paid.  I get $150 for today”.  I asked her if she got paid directly by the Buckhorn campaign.  She became suspicious at that point and clammed up….no more information.  The Stokes guy started getting suspicious, as well.  When I asked him who actually paid him he said that Curtis Stokes asked him directly to work for him, but he wouldn’t confirm who was actually paying him.  He did say that Stokes owes him for not only today but for the previous election that caused the runoff. He wasn't worried though. He said he was sure he'd get the money from the Stokes campaign, one way or the other.

At one o'clock the campaigners yelled across to each other, "It's one o'clock...only another six hours to go". I guess they're supposed to work from when the polls open to when they close. After all, Buckhorn is shelling out a lot of money to each campaigner so he's entitled to a full day's worth of cajoling voters.

The comment he made earlier about getting food was right on. As we were standing there a car pulled up and they handed him a foot long sandwich.  He said, “Here comes the food I told you about”.

I chatted with one of the official poll workers at the Hanna Ave Fire Rescue Station, Ms. Hemingway.  At the end of our chat she asked me for my business card.  I said to her, “why do you want my business card?”  She replies, “Do you have anything to do with hiring poll campaigners?  For the next election I’d like to work the polls like the other residents do around here.  I can make a lot more working the poll for a campaign than I can as an official worker”.  This type of “work” must be so rampant in this area that everyone is looking for the “bagman”.  I told her that I was just a volunteer and that I didn’t know anyone was paying for these things.  She looked shocked.  She then told me she didn’t need my card.

I was dumbfounded by all of this.  I called the Ferlita Campaign and asked them if they paid for poll campaigning.  Sandy at Ferlita Campaign Headquarters said, “Absolutely not.  We don’t pay for poll campaigning.  Our campaign volunteers are all grass roots”.

We end up with a great deal of irony in this scenario.  We also end up with hard questions that need to be asked.

Buckhorn wants to be mayor.  He says he will push for economic development.  Is this the type of economic development he had in mind for minorities?  He hires them as day labor to help get him elected?  Is he, in fact, selling them short?  Maybe he doesn’t need to campaign as hard in those areas because he’s found the magic bullet – spend the time campaigning elsewhere, then spend the money to buy campaigning, minority on minority on election day?  Should this be viewed as buying minority votes?  You hire minorities on election day to solicit votes among their peers as they are about to walk into the voting booth.  Does Buckhorn think he can buy those areas? Do minorities know that this is the strategy being applied toward them? Beyond that small handfull of people getting one day's pay every couple of years, does this community think it's a good idea and is it how they want to be treated? I'm glad that there are still some politicians that refuse to handle election campaigning this way.

We need to take a hard look at how politics are being played here in Tampa.

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