Democratic US Senate hopeful tours bird sanctuary

07/12/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Today one of the front runners in the race for Florida’s open US Senate seat paid a visit to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary. And it was more than a day at the beach for senate hopeful Jeff Greene.

Democrat Jeff Greene has only been on the campaign trail for just over two months. Yet the self-funded senate hopeful appears to be catching up to once presumed Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek in the polls.

So what does this have to do with the pelicans, bluebirds, vultures and hawks recuperating at a bird sanctuary in Indian Shores? Everything, the billionaire said in an air-conditioned SUV after touring the facility in the sweltering heat.

Located on the beach front at Sand Key, Suncoast Seabird is a major player in the effort to rescue oiled birds in the Panhandle, where much of the nonprofit’s staff has been sent. Greene said the influence of special interests on elected leaders is to blame for the disaster in the gulf. Not having to rely on their campaign donations, he said, is what sets him apart in this race.

Two of the four most well known contenders in the senate race have been crisscrossing the state, demanding that BP and the federal government amp up their response effort. But while US Representative Kendrick Meek and Governor Charlie Crist both already hold elected office, Greene doesn’t. But he said he can still make a difference by going to places like the sanctuary – at least in Florida’s political landscape.

Greene added that as a US Senator he’d try to curb special interest influence on lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

While Greene and others have their eye on the long term this election year, Michelle Simoneau, the sanctuary’s spokesperson, said that in the meantime the gulf oil disaster is making the immediate situation dire. She said that restoring the gulf to what it was before April 20 will take decades.

Simoneau said BP’s unprecedented use of toxic chemical dispersants is among bird rescuers’ biggest concerns; but the potential that a hurricane might churn crude up onto Tampa Bay’s shores is keeping responders on the edge of their seats.

And despite the droves of volunteers waiting in the wings to help in rescue and cleanup efforts, Simoneau said there are many restrictions on what they can do. She said this is because the federal government is treating the disaster site like a crime scene.

To find out more about volunteering at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, go to Seabird

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