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Long shot U.S. Senate candidate Ferre is inspired by the challenge

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Maurice Ferre, a former mayor of Miami, says voters are tired of incumbents.

Associated Press

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Maurice Ferre, a former mayor of Miami, says voters are tired of incumbents.

One day in the fall, Maurice Ferre, a towering figure in Miami politics, decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

At the time, the former six-term mayor of Miami who helped shape the city's cosmopolitan profile was already months and millions of dollars behind the Democratic front-runner, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.

Five months later — outspent roughly 33-1, without a real campaign machine and facing daunting odds — Ferre seems more inspired than intimidated by the mountain.

"I have (always) wanted to run a campaign without money, without the money of the special interests," said Ferre, a Democrat and retired business consultant who has been out of public office for nearly 15 years. "Now all the pundits say, well, that is impossible. Let's see what happens as we get into this campaign and my positions are clear."

This underdog bid to overcome Meek and then take on whoever emerges from the Republican primary slugfest between Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio is driven by Ferre's belief that smart, centrist ideas and a generous dose of moxie generate more traction than monied campaigns.

After making the rounds at condos, Democratic clubs and civic organization meetings in South and Central Florida, Ferre said he senses voters are so disenchanted with incumbents that they just might give him a shot.

"He is an outsider," said state Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat who has helped Ferre and Meek in his Central Florida district. "You have so many people who are super happy or super disgusted with what's going on in Washington these days. An outsider of any party will certainly have some appeal in these elections."

Next month, Ferre hopes to deliver a detailed position paper that will dazzle voters, part of a broader mission to position himself as a man made wise by years of experience and mistakes.

Among his causes: diversifying the state's economic base to create more and better-paying jobs, building a better-educated work force for high-tech opportunities, and bringing home Florida's rightful share of federal dollars.

Ferre, married with six children and 13 grandchildren, hasn't held office since 1996, a lifetime in politics, which makes him either gone too long to be relevant, or perfectly positioned for a comeback.

First elected mayor in 1973, he ran the city during some of its most tumultuous times, including the Mariel boatlift and McDuffie race riots, both in 1980. He also oversaw Miami's rise to international prominence and was in charge during the city's downtown development boom of the 1980s, earning him the nickname "mayor of the Miami skyline."

But detractors accused him of ignoring the needs of the city's neighborhoods.

He lost a race for county mayor in 1996 and Miami mayor in 2001. Three years later, after returning from a fellowship in Washington and a teaching stint at Princeton, he made an unsuccessful bid for Miami-Dade County mayor.

Now 74, Ferre believes the victories and defeats have only added more dimension to a public career that started in 1967 when he began serving in the Florida House.

"There are 20 U.S. senators in their 70s, and 12 are older than I am. I think that what people are looking for is the maturity and wisdom that comes, hopefully, from experience and from making a lot of mistakes," he said, adding that he is in good health except for a bad case of arthritis. "And I don't think anybody feels this is a steppingstone. I am not running for anything else."

Long shot U.S. Senate candidate Ferre is inspired by the challenge 04/06/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 10:09pm]
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