Nassau's Office-Seekers Say They'll Be Taking the High Road; Voters' Negative Campaigning Protest? Staying Home on Election Day

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY HURST

With the Sept. 5 primary election over, candidates in the Nov. 7 general election now have a little more than seven weeks to make their cases to the voters.

But as many observers said about a number of state primary races, some Nassau County candidates and political party leaders feel campaigning is too negative.

Complaints ranging from misleading information on a candidate's Web site to taking information out of context and using unflattering photographs of a candidate's opponent on mail-outs have been cited by those who would rather candidates take the high road.

Ed Gandy, immediate past chairman of the Nassau County Republican Party, said he's disgusted by the negative and dirty campaigning. And after the election, he plans to try and change some of the local GOP's campaign rules.

"We, as Republicans, have always lived by Ronald Reagan's rule: Never speak evil of another Republican," he said. "Some people have told me they are just fed up with the negative campaign tactics used in recent elections. And then people lose confidence in not only the candidate but the elected officials."

He said the worst thing a candidate can do is mislead the public.

"It's just wrong," he said. "No wonder the public has trouble having faith in elected officials and politicians sometimes."

DOWNSIDE TO DOMINANCE

Gerri Chester, new chairwoman of the Nassau County Democratic Party, has lived in Nassau County for six years. She and her husband retired to Fernandina Beach after careers in the foreign service. Both are lawyers.

She sees the local Republican party as having difficulty because Nassau County has had one- party government for so long.

"One-party government isn't good for local government. We're beginning to see here that there are people unhappy about one-party government. And I think once you have one-party government for so long, you get in-fighting," she said.

She said when one party controls, issues are not adequately debated. She said local Democrats are becoming more active. When the Amelia Island Democratic Club started last year it had 50 members. Now there are 150. And interest in the party also is increasing in west Nassau County, she said.

"We're picking up that there is a mood for change, a mood for new ideas and ways of thinking," she said. "You know, if there are splits in a party, you will have opposition from within. We're here to make sure there is opposition from without as well. The pendulum may be swinging back."

She said she knows it will take awhile to get a two-party system back in Nassau County but she feels that in 10 years, things will be very different.

"With the tremendous growth the county is beginning to see, you have an influx of new people moving here," she said. "Whether they are Republicans or Democrats, they come here having different expectations."

EVERYBODY DOES IT

As for dirty campaigning, she said both parties do it.

"What's not typical now?" she asked. "It's a sad commentary on our system. Practically anything is acceptable. And all this attacking of personalities takes time away from the issues."

Supervisor of Elections Vicki Cannon said, from her point of view, this election season has been better than some in the past.

"I didn't get nearly the number of calls I got in 2004," she said. "I really can't do anything about it, just make sure the candidates follow the state laws on elections. But it does seem that things have gotten more unpleasant, here at least, since the early '90s. It seems that as people have moved in from other places, the tone of our politics has changed."

Susan McManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said in Nassau County's case, where there are intraparty squabbles, It inevitably turns personal.

"When you're not supposed to have any ideological differences, it becomes personalitydriven," she said. …