Ken Anthony vs. Kevin White

Hillsborough County Commission District 3

Kevin White wears a black City of Tampa zippered jacket (and not an expensive Italian suit) as he works the familiar crowd at the McDonald's on Armenia Avenue in West Tampa. This working-class breakfast hangout where we meet at 7:45 on a cool morning is antithetical to the popular media image of White, but he seems genuinely at home here, one of the daily a.m. stops (from Mickey D's to the West Tampa Sandwich Shop to work) he uses to stay in touch with friends and constituents.

White, 42, is a Tampa City Council member who wants to trade up to a job on the County Commission. The Democrat is running against political newcomer Ken Anthony, a 55-year-old Republican.

It is a race where the candidates are so close together on the issues that my choice (and the voters') is clearly going to come down to personality and political skills. Both grew up in this district: White in West Tampa, Anthony in Belmont Heights. White became a cop and now is director of corporate security for Rooms to Go. Anthony went off to serve in the U.S. Navy and ended up owning a State Farm agency. Both men favor commuter rail over a proposed beltway, although Anthony's opposition to the expressway plan is stronger.

So what differentiates the two?

"The main thing that separates me and Ken is the perception of accessibility," White says, offering an anecdote of a campaign appearance where White plunged into the crowd to meet-and-greet while Anthony stayed off to one side.

That's a bit hard to believe about someone who sells insurance for a living. Anthony is far from inaccessible (at least judging by the number of folks who drop by our Village Inn Pancake House table during an interview), but I did connect better with White, whose interpersonal skills have obviously been honed by years on the political circuit.

Anthony acknowledges that running as a Republican in a heavily Democratic and African-American district is tough. He was a Democrat originally; he switched years ago after believing the party slighted Jesse Jackson during his presidential campaigns. Anthony downplays partisanship as a factor on the county commission ("I don't see anybody attaching an R or D to a pothole"), but he played the party card in the race. Anthony ran an ad in the twice-weekly Florida Sentinel-Bulletin newspaper calling himself "The Best Democratic Choice." White countered a week later with an ad that let voters know Anthony is a Republican by placing his picture alongside that of President Bush.

My choice: Both men are qualified and would be a step up from the commissioner they will replace, Thomas Scott. I liked White more than I thought I would; although even his supporters say he can be arrogant, he seemed genuinely remorseful when I pressed him about misrepresenting the purchase of $6,100 worth of business clothes bought with campaign funds. I don't find that the damning issue that his critics do. But as a former political consultant who worked in campaigns to try to get black Republicans elected, I strongly believe that African-American voters would be better off not voting monolithically Democratic when they have a perfectly good Republican option. Ken Anthony gives this district that opportunity. That he has no ties to powerbroker Ralph Hughes (unlike White) and professes stronger disdain for the Sprawlway proposal outweighs my disappointment with his "Democratic" advertising misstep.

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Elections 2006

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