NAACP candidates forum: Jim Norman's name comes up in Hillsborough District 3 debate

As you might expect, Commissioner White agreed, saying he has been "unduly and overwhelmingly attacked at times." He said the reason he believed that is the current situation with his colleague, Jim Norman (where today Mike Salinero of the Tampa Tribune writes about Norman's $90,000 + salaries as County Commissioner and with the Salvation Army, which have raised more than a few eyebrows).  A scandal of sorts has arisen in recent weeks after ABC 28 discovered that Norman's wife Mearline owns a $435,000 house in Arkansas, and yet Norman has said he has no idea how she could afford it, saying it's his wife's business.

"I'll I'm saying is that if that had been Jennie White sitting over there that had a half-million dollar house that she belongs to Kevin White, and Kevin White wasn't on it, I guarantee you, I would have gotten 100 times the ink that my fellow commissioner got," White said defiantly.

Les Miller said that being an elected official, one is held to a higher standard, and said that it didn't matter what one's color was if they had erred in office.  "Public service is not easy, but doing the right thing is," he declared.

Panelist Otis Anthony later asked if the candidates felt a "moral responsibility" to defend Barack Obama, America's first black president, from what at times seems like unfair criticism?

Valerie Goddard said she did, and alluded to "an elected official who chose not to appear with our president when he came to Florida," describing presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink, who made sure that she would not be seen with the president in Miami on Wednesday.  "I think it's important that when he came to give us money for high speed rail, everybody was 'cheesing.'  Now that things have gotten hot, and a little tough, people are running away."

Miller said it took a lot to "turn the ship around" after 8 years of rule under George W. Bush.

But White gave just a quick nod to supporting the president before he pivoted toward pumping himself up, arguing the importance of local elected officials.

CL also served on a panel with District 60 Senate candidates Chris Cano and Russ Patterson. We didn't take notes or record any of the exchanges during that event, but we can tell you that Cano, who had been embroiled in a controversy all week after he admitted on Monday night at a Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting that he did not believe in same-sex marriage, came out on fire in taking on questions, and at times mocking Patterson.

The first debate was a school board affair.  Incumbent April Griffin obviously has more experience that her three challengers (Terry Kemple, Sally Harris and Ben Fink), and it showed. Griffin can win re-election next Tuesday if she gets 51% of the four-way vote.  However, it's likely that there will be a run-off between her and Kemple, in what could be a very interesting, if not entertaining race.

Bringing up the rear at the end of a long night was House District 58 Democrat Janet Cruz debating with Joe Redner, running against Cruz in November as an independent.

Like Lenny Bruce toward the end of his career when he would stand on stage reading about his legal cases instead of being funny, Redner last night seemed to test the members of the audience still in attendance by reading directly from the indictment of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom — first in his one-minute opening statement, and then continuing every time he got asked a question, which we would quickly acknowledge from the panelists before going directly back into reading from the indictment, which read as a slam of the entire political system in Tallahassee, a point that Redner obviously intends to make about why he would make a difference if elected.

Although always civil, Cruz did say near the end of their exchange that she wasn't going back to Tallahassee to fight per se, but to walk across the aisle and work out deals with Republicans on good legislation if that were possible.

Redner's adherence to reading from the indictment prompted panelist Ken Anthony to ask: Are you seriously running for this office? Anthony then referenced the spring of 2007, when Redner had perhaps the best chance in his long history of running for office of actually winning, as he was engaged in a run-off City Council election against incumbent Gwen Miller.

Anthony then referred to a gimmick that Redner employed during the run-off which many observers felt killed his chances:  To encourage voting, he said that anybody who brought their "I Voted" sticker to his adult nightclub Mons Venus would get free admission. Redner sheepishly acknowledged that it did backfire, but said he only introduced the idea to try to drive voter participation up in what generally was a low-turnout election.  Cruz responded that "serious times requires serious representation."

We should not forget that Democrat Linda Saul-Sena and independent (excuse me, Non Party Affiliated) candidate Jim Hosler debated as well.  The Hillsborough County Commission District 5 race was not complete however, as Republican Ken Hagan was missing in action.

Both candidates were impressive in discussing what they would do.  Hosler in particular has shone in these debates, and his specific knowledge adds heft to each forum he's been in.  And he may be the only County Commission candidate (please correct me if I'm mistaken) who is for Amendment Four, otherwise known as the Hometown Democracy measure.

Incidentally, Saul-Sena informed CL that Mitch Kates is no longer part of her campaign.

Spicing up the event in the middle of the affair was Democratic Senate nominee Kendrick Meek, who appeared shortly after 8 p.m. but waited in the back until he was called up — not to give a campaign speech, but to undergo the same rigors as the other candidates in terms of answering questions, which came directly from the moderator, 10 Connects Weekend Anchor Tammy Fields (who informed the audience that the NAACP had reached out to Jeff Greene as well, but he could not make the event.  Then again, we're not sure how many events Greene has appeared in this summer that went past 9 p.m. anyway).

Meek appeared a bit chagrined when Fields asked Meek a question she says he would face if Greene were in the house, which was: What was up between you and Dennis Stackhouse?  Stackhouse was the developer for whom Meek sought federal earmarks in South Florida. Stackhouse put Meek's mother, former Congresswoman Carrie Meek, on his payroll with a salary and a rented Escalade. He's been indicted, accused of stealing nearly $1 million from a failed Miami-area biopharmaceutical complex. Nothing was ever built.

He responded initially to Field's question acidly, saying, "I'm glad to see Mr. Greene is represented here," before saying that Greene had "stooped to a level that no candidate has stooped to."  He added that he was going to make history on Tuesday by beating the Palm Beach billionaire.

It was inside a house of God, at the Bible-Based Fellowship Church of Temple Terrace last night, where the NAACP hosted a candidates forum with one batch of Hillsborough County School Board candidates, as well as the Democrats running for state Senate in Districts 58 & 60, and Hillsborough County Commission in Districts 3 & 5.

Like last week in East Tampa, divisions were drawn between embattled Hillsborough District 3 incumbent Kevin White and his two challengers, Children's Board member Valerie Goddard and former state Senator Les Miller.  Like last week, White took shots at his competitors (albeit not as stridently in this house of worship as he had last week), belittling Goddard for her work on the Children's Board, and bashing Miller as being missing in action in helping black businesses get contracts when he was in charge of minority hirings at Tampa General Hospital.

This reporter served on two of the five different panels that were assembled throughout the three-hour-plus affair.  CL  asked the candidates if they agreed with what we have found in reporting on the District 3 race in recent weeks — that is, despite the fact that White was found guilty of sexually harassing an aide last year that has ended costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, his supporters believe he's received a raw deal from the local mainstream media.  Did they agree with that or not?

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