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District 55 hopefuls tout their achievements

From left, Florida House District 55 candidates Earnest Williams, Charles McKenzie and Darryl Rouson, all Democrats, take questions from the audience at a candidate forum at the Enoch Davis Center in St. Petersburg on Thursday. It was their last group showdown before Tuesday’s special primary election.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

From left, Florida House District 55 candidates Earnest Williams, Charles McKenzie and Darryl Rouson, all Democrats, take questions from the audience at a candidate forum at the Enoch Davis Center in St. Petersburg on Thursday. It was their last group showdown before Tuesday’s special primary election.

ST. PETERSBURG — The gloves did not come off.

Instead, the Democratic candidates in the state House District 55 race left behind the public bickering and name calling that has clouded the election in recent days and stayed on their best behavior during a candidates' forum Thursday.

The event, held at the Enoch Davis Center, drew nearly 100 people and marked the final candidate showdown before Tuesday's special primary.

Eager to convince the crowd that even as their eyes are on the state capital, their thoughts were with the district, the candidates stuck to the topics they know best during the brief forum: themselves.

Attorney Darryl Rouson spoke of his campaigns to diversify the board of the St. Petersburg Times and the upper ranks of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. He also highlighted his bipartisan efforts in Tallahassee, where as a member of the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, he has worked closely with powerful leaders such as Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink to reform Florida's tax system.

As a legislator, Rouson said, he would not be another nameless team player following in the steps of others.

"I want to confront, I want to challenge with courage that leads to the big 'C' — change," he said. "The governor will listen to me, the speaker of the House will listen to me, the chairperson of the committees will listen to me, because I am working with them now."

Earnest Williams pointed to the city's accomplishments in the black community, where a new library, supermarket, drug treatment center and theater have all gone up since he became a City Council member in 2000.

"I don't talk very loud, I don't quote Dr. King, but I can get things done, I have a record," said Williams, referring to his opponents' more boisterous leadership styles.

Meanwhile, Charles McKenzie, an educator, minister and state coordinator for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, called attention to the nondenominational church he recently opened in St. Petersburg, his statewide civil rights campaigns and his more than two decades as an educator and education activist.

"I am a public servant," he said. "That is all I have done. That is all I have ever known."

The candidates also spoke of their shared concerns: closing the achievement gap between black and white students, the automatic restoration of felons' rights and home insurance reform.

The District 55 seat has been open since February when former Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg, was appointed to head the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. No Republicans are running.

More than half of the district's 70,000 voters are black and nearly two-thirds are Democrats. The seat includes part of four counties: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota.

District 55 hopefuls tout their achievements 03/21/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2008 1:14pm]
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