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Money Tight In Strapped 3rd District Candidates Dig Into Their Own Pockets For Skimpy Campaigns

Sat., Sept. 14, 1996

Statehouse candidates are snatching every loose campaign dollar in the low-budget 3rd District, and even raiding their own savings and retirement kitties in the quest to win Tuesday’s primary.

Some candidates have had troubles prying money from more than their friends and family in a district so strapped one of its political hot spots is the Garland Dollar Theater.

Only one of seven 3rd District House candidates has been able to afford city billboards, and only one of them has enough money to slap together a television advertisement.

Spare money is so scarce in the welfare-laced 3rd that one Republican has amassed only five contributions, according to his latest filings, giving him about $600.

Val Smith decided early on that it was futile trying to solicit money in the 3rd District so she siphoned $10,000 off her retirement fund, spending it on everything from T-shirts to campaign balloons.

“It’s only money,” Smith said. “I didn’t have time to raise money and votes. So I chose to chase the vote.”

The 3rd District, which covers the city’s core and its central neighborhoods, receives more welfare than all but one of the state’s 39 districts.

The district’s most competitive primary race is the House Position 2 seat that has Smith, Jeff Gombosky and Lonnie Sparks scrapping for the party’s nomination and the right to face Republican Ken Whitehall.

All three Democrats have spent from $12,000 to $14,000. Sparks, like Smith, has dumped about $10,000 into his campaign. Of the 50-plus people who contributed to Sparks, many were fellow attorneys and family members.

Gombosky is the only House candidate to raise most of his money from strangers. The 25-year-old neighborhood activist has lured big union money and many small contributors, giving him about $10,000 in donations.

He saved $2,500 to produce a 30-second television advertisement and buy slots for an ad that features fund-raiser snapshots and a brief comment to voters.

“He had to do it about 30 times,” said Melissa Gombosky, the candidate’s wife.”We wrote the commercial ourselves.”

For poorer 3rd District candidates the campaign cash is poured into yard signs, stamps and advertisements in Senior Times and the West Central and East Central community center newsletters. Sparks bought some city billboards. Smith invested in T-shirts.

The Garland Theater, which sits in the center of the district at Monroe and Garland, is also a big draw. Most 3rd District candidates have spent about $150 to get their picture - or something of theirs - flashed on the screen before movies.

More obscure costs of running for the 3rd this year include the $14 rebar cutter Whitehall bought to cut yardsign poles and the $85 Sparks spent to get a singer for his swearing-in ceremony as a newly appointed legislator this summer.

Smith said she has no regret about spending most of her retirement money on the primary race.

“I do believe people need to put their money where their mouth is,” said the retired social services director. “I believe in myself.”

, DataTimes

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