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Werder gets 'flagpole sitter' nickname on ballot

What's in a name?

To David Werder, it means the possibility of winning a seat in Congress.

This week, the Hudson Democrat managed to persuade the state Division of Elections to include his nickname on the official ballot.

Voters in the 5th Congressional District Democratic primary can now cast ballots for H. David "the flagpole sitter" Werder.

It references Werder's legend as Clearwater's most famous trespasser.

From Nov. 7, 1982, to Jan. 21, 1984, he sat atop a 30-foot flagpole, setting a world record at 439 days, 11 hours and 6 minutes.

"I always tell people that if they've been in Florida long enough they may know me. I'm almost famous," Werder said.

The 53-year-old is a perennial political candidate, having entered at least five major races in recent years.

But he's never come close to winning. "I hope this will help," he said.

State elections officials initially rejected Werder's request to include his nickname. But they reversed their ruling Tuesday after Werder presented old newspaper articles and letters showing it was legitimate.

"The Florida attorney general determined many years ago that there appears to be no objection to including the nickname of a candidate by which he or she is generally known, along with the candidate's name, on the ballot," said Jennifer Krell Davis, a state elections spokeswoman.

The decision even surprised Hernando County's election supervisor.

"Oh my gosh, did he do that?" asked Annie Williams. "That's a new one I haven't seen before."

Werder's name is easily one of the most peculiar sobriquets to appear on a ballot, but certainly not the first.

In 2007, no-party candidate "Taxi" Dave Gregory, a longtime taxi driver from Homosassa Springs, competed in a special election for state House District 43.

Even in the congressional race, Werder isn't alone.

Incumbent Republican Virginia Brown-Waite of Brooksville is known by her nickname "Ginny," and Democratic challenger Carol Castagnero introduces herself as "Grandma Carol."

But Castagnero's moniker won't appear on the ballot. She said Thursday she was upset that election officials wouldn't let her include it.

"It would help in that it would refresh a lot of memories," said the Lakeland Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006.

On the campaign trail, Werder said, few recognize his name until he tells the story.

He was given permission to sit on the flagpole at Jersey Jim Towers, an appliance store formerly at U.S. 19 and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The owners thought it would be good publicity.

As time passed, Werder wore out his welcome, saying he was there to break the Guinness Book of World Records mark for pole sitting, to seek "fortune and fame" and to protest the price of gas — then an appalling $1.20 a gallon.

Werder gets a good laugh about that last detail and uses it to launch into his ideas on energy policy.

Unlike most Democrats, he favors drilling for oil off the state's coasts — but only if residents get a dividend check from the oil companies. And he is a proponent of more nuclear power.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Werder gets 'flagpole sitter' nickname on ballot 06/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 27, 2008 9:03am]

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