Locals gathered at USF’s Embassy Suites Hotel to partake in forum geared to motivate community members to vote during the upcoming elections.
Federal, state and local election candidates spoke to voters from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties at the 2010 Tampa Bay Candidate Forum, seeking common ground and emphasizing moderate stances over highly polarized ones.
The event, organized in part by USF College Democrats and USF College Republicans and sponsored by United Voices for America, provided an opportunity for political candidates and community members to interact with one another through speeches and a panel ,composed of students from local private high schools and colleges like the University of Central Florida and the University of Tampa.
Gov. Charlie Crist said in an interview with The Oracle on Sunday that more students should vote.
“They (student voters) can make all the difference,” he said. “The youth vote can change America. They have the right, they just have to exercise it.”
Noor Shakfeh, a sophomore majoring in microbiology and economics, said she believes the education system is the most important issue of the elections.
“I’m here to learn about issues,” she said. “I think that younger people voting for candidates is really important.”
The forum chairs, Samuel Wright Sr. of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Ahmed Bedier of the Tampa Human Rights Council, allowed candidates to speak for 90 seconds, answer questions from panelists for 60 seconds each and then close with a 60 second address to the audience.
Former state Rep. Sandra Murman (R), who is running for a Hillsborough County Commission office, said, “The (three) things most important in this election are jobs, jobs and more jobs.”
Edwin Enciso, Florida state director of Democracia U.S.A. and organizer of the forum, said he handed out brochures, bumper stickers and yard signs to promote the event.
“In 2000, I saw a presidential contest decided by 537 votes. I wasn’t as (politically) active as I would have liked to have been,” he said. “I’m involved to make amends.”
Enciso, along with many candidates running for office, worked the floors, listening to voters’ concerns.
Of the 41 candidates invited to attend, 38 were present and spoke to the audience. U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek (D) and Florida House candidates Michael Steinberg (D) and Dave Miner (NPA) were not present.