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8/11/02 - Miami Herald

Caucus' aim: Energize voters Bus tour puts candidates, public in touch

By Jacqueline Charles

Jewel Parham doesn't need anybody to tell her about the disparities that exist in Miami-Dade County between rich and poor. What she needs, Parham says, is for someone to tell her how to fix them.

That's why she woke up at the crack of dawn Saturday and drove from her Kendall home to downtown Miami to get on the bus as part of the Miami-Dade chapter of the Democratic Black Caucus' first People to People Bus Tour.

The caucus, which recently opened its campaign office in Liberty City, is hoping to energize voters to help Democrats get elected.

''I know what's going on,'' Parham said as she waited to join several elected officials and political hopefuls on the all-day bus tour, which began in downtown Miami and ended at the caucus headquarters at 4799 NW Seventh Ave. ``I just want to see the reaction from these political candidates: How they feel about the community they are serving and how they can bridge the gap between the rich and poor.''

So as a dozen Democratic candidates toured black neighborhoods in Miami-Dade from Florida City to Overtown to Opa-locka, Parham and about 100 others in a second bus watched and listened.

''It's great,'' said Alfrieda Scott, 70, a Liberty City senior. ``You get to feel them, and feel close to them and see who you are going to vote for.''

Among the candidates, all Democrats, along on the ride: gubernatorial hopeful and state Sen. Daryl Jones; state Senate District 39 candidates Cindy Lerner, Ron Saunders, Larcenia Bullard and John Cosgrove; state House District 108 candidate Kevin Burns; House District 109 candidate Darryl Reaves; County Commission candidates Katy Sorenson, Patrick Cure and Willis Howard Jr.; and District 25 congressional candidate Lorna Virgili.

Even Miami-Dade Commissioner Jimmy Morales, who wants to become the county's next mayor in two years, joined the tour, playing host as the buses made a pit stop in South Miami. Said Saunders: ``It's good to be able to see firsthand what is going on and see it with people who have insight.''

As the buses journeyed through several Miami-Dade neighborhoods, Saunders and others were made aware of the good and the bad: the programs that worked and the things that are left to be done.

In Florida City, where Mayor Otis Wallace greeted them, candidates got a chance to shake hands with constituents while their staff passed out literature. Each got a chance to offer a two-minute summary of his or her platform.

''E-books instead of 10-year-old textbooks,'' Jones told a room of voters at Florida City Hall. Jones, who is hoping to raise his profile among county voters before the Sept. 10 primary, said it was important for him to be on the tour.

''This helps the black Democrats demonstrate they are doing something to help Democrats get elected,'' he said.

Though the tour was sponsored by the Democratic Black Caucus, President Henry Crespo said it isn't just about getting blacks into office.

''Some of these candidates are running in districts in which we are not the majority, but we do hold the swing vote,'' Crespo sad. ``They must respect that.''

Crespo, who hopes to make the caucus a force to be reckoned with, said candidates will have to work for its support. It plans to grade the candidates.

''It's all of us together in this thing,'' he said. ``I want you to look at the people we have and to feel them out. We aren't making any promises.''