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Friday October 31st 2014

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(Don’t Call Them) Underdogs

Racing Against the Odds
By Jeremy Morrison

In some political races, the elections are forgone conclusions. No one’s putting any money on Mindy Pare over David Morgan.

Other races make for better sport. Though one candidate may appear to be pulling ahead with a reassuring lead, there’s the other candidate that refuses to yield to the grim predictions of political bookies that have them slumping away on Election Day after suffering a sound thumping.

These candidates—the underdogs—are out to beat the odds. Going door-to-door, or stumping at local luncheons, they urge voters to turn conventional wisdom inside out.

Escambia County voters will see a number of local underdogs on their ballot in November. Will they shake up the foregone conclusions or validate the safe bets.

Learning Curve Swerve

Claudia Brown-Curry stands in front of an abandoned piece of property a couple of blocks off of Cervantes Street. It’s not unlike any number of other abandoned properties owned by the Escambia County School District—wrapped in a chain link fence and left to rot into the landscape.

“When I see a problem, I’m trying to see a solution,” said Brown-Curry, looking at the ghostly building.

Currently a guidance counselor at Brentwood Elementary School, Brown-Curry is challenging incumbent Malcolm Thomas for the Escambia County supervisor of schools position. The candidate feels the district needs a new direction.

“I know we can do better,” Brown-Curry said. “And I cannot afford to sit on the sideline and know that I could be a part of the change.”

This will be the third time the candidate—a former school board member—has sought the supervisor’s seat. She ran against Superintendent Jim Paul in 2004, and then lost to Thomas in 2008. She feels like this might be her year.

“It’s out there,” Brown-Curry said. “It’s percolating in the community.”

This candidate could be considered an underdog on several levels. To begin with, she’s running against an incumbent with name recognition and a record. Thomas is also bringing in a considerable amount of money, with $56,720.35 compared to Brown-Curry’s $16,722.

Another factor in this partisan race that could tilt the scales toward Thomas is the politi-scape that defines Escambia County. The incumbent, a Republican, stands to fair well in an area that’s traditionally right-leaning and in an election year that sees the GOP rather energized on the national level.

“I don’t even address it as that—I’m Claudia—yes, I’m listed under the Democratic party, but I am who I am,” Brown-Curry said, noting that a portion of her campaign contributions stemmed from Republican donors concerned with the school system. “On the local level, people cross over.”

Counting on voters being dissatisfied with the current performance in the school district, this candidate is hoping to upset preconceived notions about who will be leading the area’s education system into the future.

“Things have gotta change here,” Brown-Curry said. “They’re gonna change.”

District 5 Surprise?

In the Pensacola City Council District 5 race, challenger Gerald Wingate is going up against an institution. Incumbent John Jerralds is the council’s senior member and he’s asking for a seventh term.

“I think I’ve got a pretty good chance,” Wingate said recently.

The candidate said that he believes he can represent District 5 “better than it’s being represented right now.” He lists jobs and crime as key concerns for the city.

“Crime is a big problem,” Wingate said. “Houses being broken into, people getting shot in the community, people driving by and shooting in the night.”

The candidate also thinks he could better serve the city and District 5 when it comes to council’s relationship with Mayor Ashton Hayward’s administration—“personally, I think he should be at the city council meetings.”

In one way, this candidate bucks the underdog label. He has filled his campaign coffer far more than Jerralds. While the incumbent appears confident at $679.93, Wingate has brought in $4,295.

“I think people see that I would have a different approach to the job on city council,” the candidate said. “I guess it’s their belief in me that motivates them to give me their money.”

Holding Water

There are two serious candidates left in the Escambia County Utility Authority District 1 race. One has raised $870, while the other has raised $17,045.12.

“Clearly, I’m not a campaign fundraiser,” said incumbent Elizabeth Susan Campbell. “That’s not what I do. That’s what a politician does.”

Campbell is trying to hold on to her seat in the face of challenger Vicki Campbell. During the August primary, the Republican challenger beat Logan Fink, who himself raised $11,920.

The incumbent said she isn’t surprised by her opponent’s purse.

“She’s involved in the legal and real estate profession and we know there’s money there,” Campbell said, noting that the challenger also resides in a wealthy neighborhood. “All she’s gotta do is ask her neighbors.”

Campbell said she is relying on her record on the ECUA. She questions her opponent’s positions—“I don’t know where Mrs. Vicki is going with her budget cuts”—and said she is focused on maintaining the utility authority’s infrastructure.

“Not at a Cadillac-level, but certainly at a top-of-the-line Lincoln-level,” she said.

When first winning the District 1 seat, Campbell was an outspoken critic of the ECUA’s use of fluoride in the water supply. She cited health concerns, but found little appetite among the board to explore the issue. The candidate still prides herself on being the only person on the board to question the use of fluoride.

“We’re talking about nerve development, how our children’s brains are developing,” Campbell said. “Nobody wants to put that information out there. I brought it before the board and they wouldn’t even consider it.”

This candidate recognizes her underdog status in the race. She knows her opponent has built up a lethal war chest, and appears disinterested in doing so herself.

“That’s partly the reason I’m kind of an underdog, is because I’m not interested in politics, I’m interested in doing the right thing,” Campbell said. “—that sounds cliché.”

When asked to predict her chances of a victory at the polls, the candidate dodged the question and looked coyly toward Election Day.

“Am I gonna call it?” Campbell laughed. “Exciting. Interesting.”