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Fear of drug dealers moves polling place

The Urban League's Omni Center will not be used as a polling place this year because voters have said they're afraid of drug dealers who operate openly near the center.

So instead of the Omni Center on 119th St. N, a polling place for eight years, voters in precinct 345 will cast ballots at the Mary Grizzle Office Building at Ulmerton and Ridge roads.

"We're sorry," said Joan Brock with the county supervisor of elections office. "But we've had a lot of complaints. Elderly people tell us they're afraid to go into the neighborhood because of the crack and dope sales."

The Grizzle building, a state office facility, is less than a mile from the Omni Center and just a few yards east of the precinct boundary.

"It's a public building. They have to let us in there," Brock said. "We hope we won't inconvenience anyone."

But Joe Miller, director of the Omni Center, said elderly black people who live in the Ridgecrest area near Largo will definitely be inconvenienced if they have to go to the Grizzle Building to cast ballots.

"A lot of people in our neighborhood don't have transportation," Miller said. "I suspect they'll just stay home."

Miller said there's no reason white people should fear going to the Omni Center.

"There are drug problems on every corner of the U.S.," Miller said. "It might be that in our neighborhood it's more publicized."

Also, Miller noted, the Omni Center is less than a mile from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office headquarters, which should make voters feel secure.

"It's real sad that this has indicted our whole community," Miller said. "We have good people who live here. Besides, most of the people who come here to buy drugs are white."

Brock said it's not unusual to change polling places. Two other precincts, one in Clearwater and one in St. Petersburg, will be new this election.

The decision to move to the Grizzle Building had nothing to do with the Omni Center, Brock said.

"We've always been treated very nicely there," she said.

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