Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Biking The Political Trail -- Not Reporting It

Pat Kemp worked so hard for so many candidates and for so many issues in the past that Tuesday was supposed to be Pat Kemp's day.

She was running for the Democratic bid to represent Florida House District 58 (Seminole Heights, West Tampa, a bit of Town 'n' Country). Because the district is so heavily tilted toward Democrats, the special election next month to fill the unexpired term of Democrat Michael Scionti, who quit to work for the Defense Department, would certainly go to Tuesday's Democratic primary winner.

In other words, yesterday's Democratic primary was winner-take-all.

I worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 20 years, and I covered elections year after year. That meant I was programmed to stay on the sidelines, neutrally report the story, try and wade through the charges and counter-charges and, in the end, write a bias-free piece.

But now that I'm removed from newspaper life, I'm free to publicly express my political leanings. Naturally, I lean toward bicycles.

And for the first time, I helped a political campaign out in the open and leaned toward a political candidate who I knew represented the underdog, was as smart as they come in Tally and paid her dues and then some while doing the heavy lifting for other candidates.

Pat Kemp was earnest, committed, tough and right on the issues. And she was classy by thanking her supporters and friends last night.

By the way, Pat biked, too, and wasn't afraid to let me know that.

To show my support, I bicycled a huge trailer showing a Pat Kemp campaign sign and stood at a corner at Central and Hillsborough during a stint yesterday, waving like all those crazy loons you see with political candidate signs on street corners on election day.

Pat was there for a while, too. "Vote today," she told drivers.

More than 2,500 registered Democrats in District 58 did, and, by night's end, Pat trailed by 58 votes -- 1,211 to 1,153. Pat did not concede and demanded a recount.

I was proud to have towed a huge rolling campaign sign beautfully crafted by Pat's artist daughter Caitlin. The truth was the majority of drivers stared coldly at the road and didn't pay attention. But there were plenty of honks, too, to validate the purpose of biking for a candidate.

The other two candidates? Janet Cruz-Rifkin (she didn't use her legal name on the ballot; instead, she used Janet Cruz in the Latino-heavy district) deployed a plane in the morning for a short time to carry her banner. And the third candidate, Gil Sanchez, used a truck.

Pat? We used a bicycle. That's symbolic of the differences between the three Dems. Janet and Gil did not even live in District 58. You can do that in Florida -- run for the state House of Representatives without living in the district. But if you win, you have to move and live in the district. Janet lives in a fancy waterfront house in South Tampa. Pat lived in Seminole Heights and in the district.

Last night, I experienced my first campaign election results gathering as a participant and not as a reporter, joining 60 other Pat supporters at the Front Porch restaurant. Funny, but last night I almost felt sorry for Janet Zink, the St. Pete Times reporter hunched over her laptop at a table along a wall in the bar. I was excited by politics in a way I never felt before when I was a detached reporter.

Everyone in the room genuinely loved Pat, chanting her name after Pat thanked her campaign helpers and friends. Pat didn't have to pay $100 yesterday to people she didn't know to hold signs at the polling stations like Janet Cruz did (one such Cruz worker named Julia at the 318/319 precinct polling center at Nebraska and Hillsborough said she loved the artwork of Pat's rolling billboard sign I towed and even asked where Pat was holding her election party).

Pat trailed through the night by 100 votes or so. But it was still nerve-wracking when the numbers were announced in the end when Pat had cut into Janet Cruz's lead, reducing the margin to only 58 votes.

It's unlikely a recount will yield a different winner. But I can still hope.

When I left, I told Pat I'm going to keep the campaign sign on my bicycle trailer because we'll need to break it out for the general election campaign next month.

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