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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

A Hot Ticket on a Cold Day in Florida

Law: Students, political junkies and profit-seeking place-holders wait as long as seven hours to watch the state Supreme Court hearing on the presidential election.

November 21, 2000|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Nancy Polk braved an unseasonably frosty Florida morning to stand in line Monday, figuring she'd see a bit of national history.

Instead, she became a footnote to it.

Polk was first in the long queue to get inside Florida's white-domed Supreme Court building, and thus joined only about 100 regular citizens who were given a front-row perch to watch the weighty legal fight that may help decide the presidency.

But it was earlier, outside the solemn court chambers of marble and wood, when the Florida State University doctoral student had her long morning in line etched in the first draft of the history books.

"I must have done a couple dozen interviews with the media--TV, newspapers, all of them," said Polk, who favored Vice President Al Gore on election day and has been glued to news reports of the recount drama ever since. "That's one of the occupational hazards of being first in line, I guess."

Under a cold but cloudless sky, Florida's capital pulsed with the sort of ceremonial energy normally reserved for Super Bowls and celebrity trials.

Network anchors huddled in wind-whipped tents, satellite trucks lined the boulevards, picketers packed the sidewalks. French and BBC camera crews shared the capitol grounds with clowns and a red-dressed woman calling herself Angelina the Polka Queen. Traffic slowed to a crawl as gawkers gawked.

But the real action was in front of the courthouse.

Forget the inflated scalpers' prices for tickets to last weekend's big college football game here. Monday's court hearing was the toughest ticket in town.

The first folks arrived about 7 a.m. and stood for seven hours before being ushered by police through a corridor of placard-waving protesters just before the 2 p.m. hearing began.

Some with expense accounts found a shortcut. TV networks, newspapers and capital bigwigs paid top dollar to have students save them a place in line.

"I'm a political junkie and I had to be here," said Ron Book, one of Florida's most influential lobbyists, who said he paid $100 to a big college kid in a Windbreaker to hold his spot.

Next to him, Heather Serio only got $75 from ABC News for her spot in line, but she wasn't complaining. (A lottery chose 28 media members out of a pool of more than 500 applicants.)

"I'm getting well paid for it," said Serio, who heard about the good pay for line duty at her FSU sorority. "But I also wanted to see what's going on. Honestly, I think this whole process needs to get over very soon."

A bit farther down, the Frazelle family--business consultant Ed, housewife Pat and schoolkids Kelly, 11, and 9-year-old Andrew--had driven down in their minivan from Atlanta the day before.

"The Lord willing, we think we're in the first hundred and should get in," said Ed, who pulled the children from school "so they could learn in a live setting."

"I hope we get in so it was worth the wait," said Kelly, from behind wire-rimmed glasses. Added Andrew: "I like getting the chance to be on TV and in the newspapers. It's cool."

Opinions in line, as in the rest of America, abounded about the nation's prolonged presidential vote count.

"I think they should put the vice president and governor in a room and have them hand count ballots and duke it out," said Creston Nelson-Morrill, who was just behind Polk and amazed that she got a spot when she arrived just after 7 a.m. "I figured the FSU law students would be camped out, but they weren't."

At mid-block, Kris Carmichael and Sheila Sawyer didn't bother getting in line. Fans of George W. Bush, the two homemakers and best friends told their husbands to hold down the fort in Orlando and came armed with placards.

"Ballot Stuffing by Al Gore," screamed one poster. The other posed the question: "Theft of Democracy by Al Gore and Florida Supreme Court?"

"Since the election I haven't been able to sleep, I've hardly eaten," Sawyer said. "I've internalized my frustration and it's made me sick."

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