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Names on ballot a surprise

Council member Gwen Miller asked for signatures to help husband.

Council member Gwen Miller asked for signatures to help husband.

TAMPA — When Hillsborough County Democrats in Precinct 617 go to the polls Tuesday, they'll be asked to consider voting for Belinda Allen as their representative to the local party.

But Allen, an aide to Tampa City Council member Tom Scott, said she had no idea her name would be on the ballot.

"I didn't know anything about it," she said. "I found out when I got a call from a neighbor."

How did that happen?

Allen said it's because City Council member Gwen Miller went through the office asking people to sign a paper to help out her husband, Les Miller, a former state senator.

City Council receptionist Catherine Jones told a similar story.

"She said Les was running for something in Hillsborough County, would I be willing to help him out," said Jones, who has already won her post as a Precinct 755 committeewoman because she had no opponent.

But Jones didn't know about her new political role until told about it by a reporter.

"I don't want to be in," she said. "Oh Lord! How do I get my name off of there?"

When first questioned about all this, Miller said she did not ask anyone to sign any forms. Then she conceded she gave a form to her aide, Olivia Wilson.

But fellow council member Charlie Miranda said she also asked him to sign one.

"She said she needed some help for Les because he wanted to run for, I forget what the hell it is," Miranda said. "I read the paper and told her it meant I would be a committeeman.''

Miranda said he had no interest in the position, but agreed to sign as a favor to Miller.

When a reporter told her that several people, including Miranda, had said she approached them with the forms, Miller said, "I already told you what I have to say. ... If that's what they said, you write what they said."

Miranda, like Jones, won his precinct post by virtue of running unopposed.

Les Miller said he may run to replace Michael Steinberg as local Democratic chairman, or Karen Thurman, who heads the state party.

"I haven't made up my mind yet," he said.

He said he didn't know anything about the City Hall employees supposedly approached by his wife.

Miller said he has talked to Thurman about succeeding her if she doesn't seek re-election.

"She may still be running, and if that's the case it changes the whole concept," he said.

Allen, Miranda and Jones said there was no notary present when they signed the papers, though the documents on file in the Supervisor of Elections office show they were notarized by Dianne Hart, a community activist in Miller's East Tampa neighborhood.

Hart, who did not return calls for comment, also is running to be a precinct committeewoman.

Christina Voehl, aide to council member Mary Mulhern, said Miller asked her to "sign a form for Les," and told her not to worry about getting it notarized.

Voehl said she knew what the document was, and later signed the same form at the request of Democratic Party representatives in the presence of a notary.

Voehl said she wanted to be a committeewoman because she wants to be involved in the party.

Council aides Wilson, Mary Bryan and Rhonda Smalls will also appear on ballots.

Precinct committeemen and women are chosen every four years during presidential elections. They vote for officers of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee and help select representatives to the state party.

Steinberg said it's not uncommon for people who want to be an officer in the local party or serve in the state party to recruit supporters to run as precinct committeepeople so they can guarantee votes.

But the precinct positions have importance beyond that, he said. Those are the people the party counts on to knock on doors in neighborhoods and win backing for Democratic candidates.

"We really want people to sign up who are interested in doing the job," he said.

Staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this story. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Names on ballot a surprise 08/23/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2008 4:05pm]
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