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Student, incumbent square off for House

He's a college student, political novice and Republican who says his frustration with an elected representative led him to run for office. She's a longtime Democratic legislator from Lutz who has been a key player on transportation financing and environmental issues and wants to continue the job for a fifth term.

In November, they square off for the District 60 seat in the Florida House of Representatives.

Incumbent state Rep. Mary Figg, 56, has won praise for her role in helping craft and guide a transportation plan that will nearly double the state transportation budget over five years. She hopes to spend the next two years overseeing the implementation of that plan, as well as concentrating on environmental and social issues.

Enter Todd Stevens, a 24-year-old University of South Florida (USF) student and owner of a small property management company. When his wife, a hospital nurse, came in contact with a patient she didn't know had AIDS, he says he went to Figg to ask for a measure to allow doctors to test patients they suspect of having the virus.

Stevens says Figg's office brushed him off on the issue. Figg says she told him, through a staff member, that such a measure would be a violation of privacy rights, as well as an additional cost to an overburdened health-care system.

"We thought we had someone who understood," Figg said. "But he got angry and filed to run, which is what democracy is all about."

"I think she's out of touch," Stevens countered. "That's a heavy criticism, and that's why I chose to run."

They are running decidedly different campaigns. Stevens, who has raised $2,466 from family and friends, has limited his campaign to taking his brown pickup on the road, knocking on doors and leaving behind fliers outlining his platform.

"(Gov.) Bob Martinez has my vote and my support, but I've learned something from Lawton Chiles," said Stevens, who wears jeans, sneakers and a plaid shirt for the neighborhood campaigning.

Figg, who also is doing her share of precinct-walking and door-knocking, has raised $85,943. Civic activists from Seffner to Lutz sport her buttons. Her strategies have included bold green fliers that read "Mary Figg has clout," lawn signs, a billboard on Fowler Avenue and a recent wine-and-cheese political rally at the Museum of Science and Industry. The event attracted such local notables as USF President Francis Borkowski.

Some say Figg, who helped pass a bill outlawing dumping of untreated sewage into Tampa Bay and has worked for support of domestic violence victims and infant mortality, will prove a tough incumbent to beat.

"I think she has the state of Florida at heart," said Cam Oberting, a civic activist from Seffner. "She's compassionate. Mary has always responded to us."

But Stevens supporters insist he has an advantage.

"I find Todd to be an honest guy," said David Young, a friend and supporter.

If elected, Stevens said he would push for the AIDS-testing measure, as well as increased drug testing, improvement on existing roads rather than new toll roads and ethics reforms that would make accepting special-interest gifts a felony.

Figg would concentrate on financing for education, a water re-use policy, budget reform and overseeing the implementation of the transportation package.

Although both candidates have emphasized the issues, the campaign has not been without its odd happenings.

Stevens reported that his name had been left on a computer bulletin board as part of a gay dating service.

"One thing I never thought was that my _ how do I put it _ chivalry would be in question," Stevens said.

Then, several people in the district reported that they got anonymous telephone calls describing the name Figg as "a four letter word that begins with F" and telling them not to "be Figged again."

Both candidates deny involvement in the incidents, and both seem to have taken them in stride.

"Things like that tend to happen in campaigns," Stevens said.

"It's the silly season," Figg said. "From the time we qualify, anything can happen."

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