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GREENLIGHT SUPPORTERS DRIVE HOME THEIR CASE

Their No Tax for Tracks opponents are relying heavily on yard signs.

Greenlight Pinellas supporters leaned a poster against a trifold stand in the dewy morning at the edge of Williams Park. Cameramen planted their feet beside print reporters jotting notes from yet another news conference by the mass transit project's backers.

With speeches prepared and slacks pressed, they continued a media blitz in the runup to the Nov. 4 election. It raises the question: How do those against the project keep up the fight?

"We're just executing our plan," said Barb Haselden, campaign manager for No Tax for Tracks. She said the plan includes public rallies and yard signs.

The news conference Monday was led by Connect Tampa Bay, a grass roots group that supports more public transportation. The Greenlight Pinellas plan would raise the sales tax 1 cent to help fund a 24-mile light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater, as well as expanded bus service.

"We've got a tea party group that's rebranded themselves as No Tax for Tracks, and they've been unable to attract anyone else to support their cause," said Brian Willis, Connect Tampa Bay's president.

Local dentist Johnny Johnson, said many people in No Tax for Tracks also fought against water fluoridation a few years ago. The Greenlight supporters said representatives of No Tax for Tracks have obfuscated the facts in several ways, including dispensing an image of a locked Denver parking lot and saying it was a park-and-ride and claiming tinted windows on local buses are meant to hide empty seats.

Haselden said her group is not solely filled with tea party supporters or fluoride opponents. Without addressing each Connect Tampa Bay accusation, she said, "I'm not going to interact with this kind of childishness."

And though the Greenlight project's proponents have been especially loud of late, Haselden said she is not concerned. In the past week, she said, her group has fielded requests for hundreds of red opposition signs.

Haselden said 23 volunteers are distributing the signs across the county, even though she suspects Greenlight supporters of stealing and vandalizing some of the No Tax for Tracks billboards. The group has four sign waving events scheduled this week.

"I think they're losing, and this is just desperation," Haselden said.

Scott Paine, a communication and government professor at the University of Tampa, said the No Tax for Tracks group is fighting against people with money and inherent credibility. The Greenlight supporters have landed significant endorsements, including Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Paine said the No Tax volunteers' best move going forward is to continue grass roots campaigning and to harp on the tax increase.

"In a political vacuum people are going to start to gravitate back to that, 'Oh, it's tax,'" he said.

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804.

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