9th District candidates debate

08/12/08 Mitch E. Perry
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As Democrats look forward to the Congressional elections this fall, they see Florida’s 9th District as one place where they might be able to make inroads.

That seat has been held for less than two years by Republican Gus Bilirakis of Tarpon Springs. His father, Michael, held the seat for more than two decades before that.

Two weeks from tonight, Democratic voters in the multi-country district will choose their own candidate to face the incumbent.

Today in downtown Tampa, the three candidates faced off in a respectful discussion of the issues. Former Plant City Mayor John Dicks told the audience about how he was recruited to run for the seat by the Democratic Congressional Candidate Campaign Committee.

The candidates gathered at the forum, hosted by the Democratic Professionals Council of Tampa, a group of young local Democrats celebrating their one year anniversary. There were few questions about policy differences, and more on how any of the candidates could beat Bilirakis in the fall.

Anita DePalma is the former State Director of LULAC – The League of United Latin American Citizens. She said one way that she would distinguish herself from Gus would simply to be there for her constituents.

Bill Mitchell is the 3rd Democrat in the race. He’s an attorney and former military veteran, and speaks frequently of veterans issues.

Recently, Tampa area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor introduced a bill that aims to expedite the disability claims process. In Tampa, where all of the claims for disability benefits are heard, there is nearly a two-year wait. An audience member asked the candidates what they would do, if anything, to try to speed up the process.

Bill Mitchell said the wait for disability claims for veterans is even longer.

Instead of answering the question directly, Anita DePalma countered by talking about the solvency of Social Security, and said that the problem is that not enough people pay into the entitlement program, although there doesn’t appear to be much evidence of that.

Asked how he would persuade Bilirakis to debate him in the fall, John Dicks said he thought that would happen, because he says the freshman Congressman is vulnerable.

Florida’s 9th Congressional District is one of the most unwieldy in the Tampa Bay Area. It encompasses the northern parts of Pinellas, including Clearwater, and the Gulf Coast of Pasco County, including New Port Richey. It spreads west to the eastern part of Hillsborough County.

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