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Let dignity dictate in race

How desperate is candidate Ernie Bach to make race an issue in this year's Largo city election?

Desperate enough to make one of the most tasteless, baseless allegations we can recall in a local election campaign.

Bach accused the Largo Leader, a weekly newspaper, of lightening the color of his opponent's skin when the paper ran photos of all of the Largo City Commission candidates.

Bach's opponent, Rodney Woods, is of African-American and Creole descent. If elected, he would be Largo's first black commissioner. Woods' light brown skin wasn't black enough in the Leader photo to suit Bach, so he sent this e-mail to the newspaper:

"Come on, guys. You've got to be kidding!" Bach wrote. "I got home last night and had four messages on my phone machine asking me what (many comments and an expletive) the Leader was trying to accomplish by enhancing Mr. Woods' picture, and making him so light that his front page picture is almost unrecognizable. Then I got my Leader and, sure enough, it appears Mr. Woods has undergone an amazing Michael Jackson-like transformation. SHAME ON YOU."

If Largo citizens want the kind of person who would make such an allegation on their City Commission, they can sit at home on election day Tuesday, as Largo citizens are prone to do, and Bach may be elected. Many citizens who use absentee ballots already had voted before news about Bach's allegation became public.

When Woods learned of Bach's accusation from a St. Petersburg Times reporter, he reacted with characteristic calm and class: "I will continue on the high, dignified road. I will not stoop down to the muddy waters that Ernie Bach loves to play in."

When the Times asked Bach why the tone of Woods' skin mattered to him, he wouldn't explain. He merely said, "I am not a racist," and added that he has "a lot of very close friends of African-American background."

If Woods' race didn't matter to Bach - if he was willing to confine this campaign to truthful debate over the candidates' qualifications and issues - he would not have reacted the way he did to Woods' photo, and it never would have occurred to him to write such an outrageously offensive e-mail. Bach took the low road, and got caught there.

Bach clearly wants to make sure that Largo voters know that Woods is black, probably because Bach figured that they will refuse to elect a black man to the City Commission.

Bach probably counts on skin color mattering more to Largo voters than Woods' quiet efforts to unify the community. More than Woods' dedicated service on the city's Strategic Planning Committee and Martin Luther King Memorial Committee and Public Works/Environmental Services Board. More than Woods' volunteer work with the Largo Lion's Club and its white cane campaign. More than Woods' regular attendance at City Commission meetings for several years. More than Woods winning the endorsement of the Largo Police Benevolent Association, the Largo Professional Firefighters Local 2427, the Communication Workers of America local and the St. Petersburg Times.

Bach probably counts on Largo's history of racial intolerance to win the day for him at the polls Tuesday. But we think Largo is better than that. We are hopeful that Largo wants to grow beyond that old history of racial discrimination and be a community that welcomes all responsible members of society equally, regardless of the color of their skin.

There are two other races on the Largo ballot Tuesday, including the mayor's race, but the Seat 3 race between Woods and Bach may be the most important because of what the results will say about the community.

We hope voters will turn out to vote for the man who takes the high road, rather than the one who did not.