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Take a look at local politics

Label me crazy, masochistic or both, but during the past week and a half, I've spent nearly 17 hours interviewing local candidates _ and enjoyed it!

Oh, sure, some came across as better informed and more qualified than others, but they all impressed me with their enthusiasm and willingness to serve their respective communities. Some were especially articulate and candid about their goals if elected. All realized that these are not the times for grandiose new projects.

Editor of editorials Diane Steinle and I, plus the reporter assigned to each city, met with three Oldsmar candidates, four in Largo and five each in Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs. Still to go are the four Clearwater City Commission candidates.

We are providing free space on our Opinion page this week for the candidates to explain why you should vote for them. Our reporters will be bringing you election stories, and the Times' recommendation editorials will follow shortly.

But you must do your part. Residents in the cities listed above and other local communities will be choosing their commissioners and council members in the coming weeks. You should learn everything you can about your candidates, attend a forum to hear them in person, talk to your neighbors and then make up your own mind.

Now that the New Hampshire primary is over, the presidential candidates are headed to Florida. That's fine and dandy, but don't let their presence overshadow the men and women who will be overseeing your city, providing you with police and parks, widening your streets and setting your water and garbage rates.

Every one of these local candidates deserves your attention.

Schools, children focus of talks

Even before our schools faced a monetary crisis, the North Pinellas League of Women Voters planned a daylong symposium on "our children at risk." These are the thousands of children with little or no parental guidance, no tender loving care at home, and, thus, no self-esteem.

This widespread lack of self-esteem, a California study showed, not only leads to poor grades but to violent behavior.

The schools have a big job, made tougher by the continuing budget cutbacks. So now the symposium is called "Our Children, Our Schools at Risk _ What Can We Do?"

"It is the hope of this symposium's sponsors," the league says, "that we _ the parents, the teachers and the other professionals concerned with the improvement of our children's performance in the public school system _ can help surmount the difficulties we face together in today's prevailing circumstances. Working together, we can do it."

The symposium, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Tampa Bay Conference Center in Largo, will feature several noted speakers on parenting, behavioral problems, and raising responsible and cooperative children.

The registration fee of $15 includes lunch. Call Sidney Goetz at 343-8666 to reserve your place.

Israel expert to visit Pinellas County

Israel is back in the news. (Is it ever out of the news?) A man considered to be an expert on Israel and on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union will be speaking twice Tuesday in Pinellas County.

Robert Mayer Evans, a former CBS and CNN news correspondent, will speak at noon in the Great Room of Ruth Eckerd Hall during the annual Education Day sponsored by the West Coast Council of the Florida Central Region of Hadassah. Reservations for the $15 luncheon may be made by calling Lisl Schick at 531-3630 or Sylvia Berg at 536-9761.

He also will speak at 7:30 p.m. during a free community forum at Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg.

Evans last year was in the Middle East at the start of the Persian Gulf war, in Jerusalem when the first Scud missiles were fired at Israel and in the Soviet Union at the time of the attempted coup.