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Teachers show strength at polls

The last legislator to represent District 55 in the Florida House was an educator. The candidate being sworn in today to represent the district is an educator. The teachers' union was the first large interest group to endorse a candidate, and their members worked tirelessly.

It is no small wonder, then, that Pinellas County educators were nearly as gleeful Wednesday as school social worker Rudolph Bradley after his impressive victory in Tuesday's general election to the state legislative seat.

"The education community sees that as our seat," said Doug Tuthill, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers' Association.

Doug Jamerson, a longtime schoolteacher, held the District 55 seat for more than a decade but left his seat in the Legislature after being named state education commissioner by Gov. Lawton Chiles last year.

Bradley, 47, entered a field of five Democratic candidates _ eight candidates overall _ in his bid for the Legislature. He was the second highest vote-getter in the primary and defeated the Rev. Mayjor Mason Walker in a contentious runoff last month for the right to represent the Democratic Party in the general election.

Tuesday, he captured 71.9 percent of the vote to win the right to represent most of southern St. Petersburg, a chunk of northern Manatee County and a couple of voters in Hillsborough County.

Roy Miller, Bradley's political consultant with Mary Repper and Associates, attributes the win to the help of schoolteachers and education support workers such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and secretaries.

"There were other elections where you could say they helped put a candidate over the top," Miller said Wednesday. "But this is one of the few where you could say they were the major difference. The teachers' union and educational support personnel can point to the results (of the election) and clearly say "we made the difference.' "

How did they do it?

About 600 members of the teachers' union live in District 55, Tuthill said. "All of our members were called at least twice by our phone banks. All our members received from us _ independent of the campaign _ at least six pieces of mail. We did a lot of canvassing. I spent three whole days walking the district."

And the union members themselves were active, Tuthill said. A large core group of union members spoke at their churches, stood on street corners holding signs and walked door-to-door leaving literature.

"Jamerson was a longtime member of the teachers' association," Tuthill said. "Rudy was a longtime member of the teachers' association. We really see that as our seat. We put unprecedented efforts into this campaign."

And when Jamerson _ a tremendously popular politician who grew up in the district _ endorsed Bradley's candidacy, the deck was stacked, said Grady Irvin, an independent candidate who garnered 897 votes, or 16.1 percent, in Tuesday's election.

"Jamerson's endorsement of Bradley was very significant," Irvin said. "It was more than significant. It was a very, very important endorsement for him."