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Activist de Palma battles Bilirakis in U.S. House District 9

Despite her opponent's experience and name recognition, Anita de Palma is not intimidated.

In fact, she's taking shots at incumbent Rep. Gus Bilirakis, whose father, Mike, served in Congress for 24 years.

"In our country, we don't have kings and queens," said de Palma, 73, a Democrat with a background in entertainment and activism. "And you don't inherit a crown from your father. The position has to be earned."

But Gus Bilirakis, a state representative from 1998 to 2006, isn't ruffled by de Palma's jabs. He listens to his constituents and has succeeded on his own merits, he said.

"I've always been interested in public service," said Bilirakis, 47, a Republican. "I served in the Legislature for eight years. I would have never run for this position if I didn't feel I was qualified for it."

De Palma and Bilirakis share little common ground. Among other issues, the candidates for the 9th Congressional District clash on immigration, Bush's tax cuts and the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

De Palma, a Hispanic activist, wants to reform immigration. She proposed a plan to let undocumented immigrants earn points toward permanent citizenship. Bilirakis opposes amnesty and supports an Arizona-style immigration law.

Bilirakis supports keeping all of Bush's tax cuts. De Palma doesn't support extending the cuts, even those for middle class Americans, until she gets more information about how they will impact the deficit.

And Bilirakis, who has been an advocate for those in the military, is not in favor of overturning its ban on openly gay service members.

"At this time, I think we should keep the status quo."

De Palma, who said she lost a close, gay friend to AIDS, thinks sexual preference shouldn't be an issue.

"They're just as valiant, just as courageous as the next person," she said.

Over the past three years, de Palma has had her share of financial issues. She has been sued three times for unpaid credit card bills. Judges have ordered her to pay more than $22,000.

Her financial disclosure form was due about five months ago. The St. Petersburg Times has made several requests for copies of the form since July, when campaign staff said it had already been submitted. Last week she said "it was "just sent up" to the Clerk of the House.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Activist de Palma battles Bilirakis in U.S. House District 9 10/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 14, 2010 4:30am]
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