District 55 candidates get testy at Tiger Bay
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03/12/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

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Registered Democrats in Florida’s House District 55 can vote in a special primary election on March 25 to replace Rep. Frank Peterman Jr.

The three Democrats who are vying for the seat spoke at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg this afternoon. They are Charles McKenzie, Darryl Rouson and Earnest Williams.

Things got personal between two of the candidates after Williams, a current member of the St. Petersburg City Council, used almost three of his seven allotted minutes to attack Rouson’s record. The bad blood between the two candidates even caused a brief interruption of the program when Rouson asked Williams to stop talking to him during an introduction by moderator Del Fields.

Rouson, who is currently a member of the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, told WMNF that he wasn’t surprised by the attack.

But Williams said he was just accurately reflecting Rouson’s record.

Avoiding the fray between Williams and Rouson was the Rev. Charles McKenzie Jr., a peace and social justice activist who has been the statewide coordinator for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition for 12 years.

District 55 lies in parts of four counties: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Sarasota. McKenzie, who ran for Congress against Katherine Harris in 2002, says it’s gerrymandered to be a predominantly African-American and Democratic district.

Peterman resigned the House seat because he was appointed head of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice by Gov. Charlie Crist last month. Peterman had been elected in 2000 and was set to lose his seat this fall to term limits. Peterman has endorsed Rouson, who said there needs to be more corporate involvement in public education.

Rouson questioned whether Williams, who is an insurance agent and called for deregulation of insurance, could be trusted to solve the insurance crisis. The three candidates were asked questions about human rights for transgender persons, taxes, and the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium proposal. Williams, who has been endorsed by state senators Arthenia Joyner and Tony Hill, told WMNF it would be up to the citizens whether the Rays get their wish to get a new, taxpayer-funded stadium.

McKenzie said he has been endorsed by the local groups of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Progressive Democrats of America in addition to the former mayor of Sarasota Carolyn Mason and Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Mercier, both Republicans.

There will be both a Democratic primary and a general election because there is a write-in candidate, Calvester Benjamin-Anderson. The District 55 primary election, for registered Democrats is March 25, but early voting will be held March 17-22. March 17 is the deadline to register to vote in the April 15 general election. To request a ballot by mail, call (727) 464-6788.

On April 4, the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club will feature speakers on the debate over the marriage amendment that will be on the November ballot.

Learn more:

Earnest Williams

Darryl Rouson

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections

District 55 map

Another District 55 map

Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice

Calvester Benjamin-Anderson

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