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In Fort Myers, Obama finds support – Sarasota Herald

FORT MYERS

Staunchly Republican and still shackled by a sluggish economy, this Southwest Florida community seems like hostile territory in President Barack Obama’s campaign to win Florida this fall.

The city and surrounding Lee County were at the epicenter of the country’s housing market crash, and the wounds inflicted have been slow to heal. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, more than half a percentage point above the state’s 8.6 percent rate. And it remains a hot spot for housing foreclosures.

But Shirl Felton does not blame Obama for the lingering economic problems. Instead, she points the finger at Congress for opposing his plans for fixing them.

“I think he’s doing a great job, considering what he walked into,” said Felton, 56, who was born in Fort Myers. “If we give him four more years, we’ll see this turn around.”

Britinee Haisley, who lives in Lehigh Acres, one of the areas hardest hit in Lee County by the foreclosure crisis, agreed. “He’s only one man,” she said. “I’m not understanding why people are blaming him.”

That theme, echoed in a series of interviews with Fort Myers-area residents, underscored why Obama ventured into an area where the politicians, from the county commission to Congress, are Republicans. A Democrat hasn’t carried Lee in a presidential campaign in more than 30 years.

But nearly a third of Fort Myers’ 62,298 residents are black. Hispanics make up nearly 19 percent of Lee County’s 631,330 people. Obama’s campaign is counting on strong support and high turnout among both groups to offset Mitt Romney’s expected showing in GOP strongholds including Southwest Florida and Jacksonville.

Fort Myers native and City Councilman Johnny W. Streets Jr. is taking nothing for granted. Streets said his local Dunbar High School graduating class of ’67 has launched a voter information and registration drive. He said a get-out-the-vote initiative is being coordinated at 75 to 100 African- American churches in Fort Myers.

“It will be better than before,” Streets, a retired Fort Myers policeman and second-term councilman, said of turnout for this fall’s election. “I believe this will be the most important vote I will ever cast for the future, and people understand that.”

Romney has made Obama’s handling of the economy a central focus of his campaign, arguing that Obama favors government expansion over business-friendly policies and that he has focused more on keeping his job than creating more in the private sector. Romney has also contended that his business acumen makes him better-suited to improving the economy.

Obama counters that the key to improving the economy is helping the middle class. Before cutting short his campaign swing through Florida on Friday because of the tragic theater shooting in Colorado — he commented on the shooting in brief remarks in Fort Myers and canceled an Orlando appearance — Obama sought to make the case that his tax policies, health care program and other initiatives were helping the middle class.

Lee County, like most of Florida, has struggled to rebound from the Great Recession without the benefit of a strong housing sector, historically a key engine for growth.

While the market is better than it was two years ago, it is still limping, with RealtyTrac listing 22,421 foreclosed properties in Florida in June, or 1 in every 401. Lee exceeded that rate, with 1,153 foreclosure properties, or 1 in 322. The national rate was 1 in 666.

Carletha E. Griffin contended that housing and the economy are coming back, crediting Obama for boosting the auto industry and health care.

“He had one heck of a mess to clean up,” said Griffin, a business consultant and human resource recruiter who has lived in Fort Myers for 18 years. “It’s hard to clean up someone else’s mess.”

Felton, president of the Velasco Village homeowners association, said she weathered the recession, accepting a buyout from the construction business she had worked for over 21 years before taking on two jobs, with the school district and a private contractor for the local housing authority.

“I think the economy is turning around,” she said.

Streets agreed: “I think even though things are moving slower, at least they’re moving forward. I would say we’re on the way up.”

[BYLINE]By VICTOR HULL
MCvictor.hull@heraldtribune.com
MCFORT MYERS — Staunchly Republican and still shackled by a sluggish economy, this Southwest Florida community seems like hostile territory in President Barack Obama’s campaign to win Florida this fall.
The city and surrounding Lee County were at the epicenter of the country’s housing market crash, and the wounds inflicted have been slow to heal. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, more than half a percentage point above the state’s 8.6 percent rate. And it remains a hot spot for housing foreclosures.
But Shirl Felton does not blame Obama for the lingering economic problems. Instead, she points the finger at Congress for opposing his plans for fixing them.
“I think he’s doing a great job, considering what he walked into,” said Felton, 56, who was born in Fort Myers. “If we give him four more years, we’ll see this turn around.”
Britinee Haisley, who lives in Lehigh Acres, one of the areas hardest hit in Lee County by the foreclosure crisis, agreed. “He’s only one man,” she said. “I’m not understanding why people are blaming him.”
That theme, echoed in a series of interviews with Fort Myers-area residents, underscored why Obama ventured into an area where the politicians, from the county commission to Congress, are Republicans. A Democrat hasn’t carried Lee in a presidential campaign in more than 30 years.
But nearly a third of Fort Myers’ 62,298 residents are black. Hispanics make up nearly 19 percent of Lee County’s 631,330 people. Obama’s campaign is counting on strong support and high turnout among both groups to offset Mitt Romney’s expected showing in GOP strongholds including Southwest Florida and Jacksonville.
Fort Myers native and City Councilman Johnny W. Streets Jr. is taking nothing for granted. Streets said his local Dunbar High School graduating class of ’67 has launched a voter information and registration drive. He said a get-out-the-vote initiative is being coordinated at 75 to 100 African- American churches in Fort Myers.
“It will be better than before,” Streets, a retired Fort Myers policeman and second-term councilman, said of turnout for this fall’s election. “I believe this will be the most important vote I will ever cast for the future, and people understand that.”
Romney has made Obama’s handling of the economy a central focus of his campaign, arguing that Obama favors government expansion over business-friendly policies and that he has focused more on keeping his job than creating more in the private sector. Romney has also contended that his business acumen makes him better-suited to improving the economy.
Obama counters that the key to improving the economy is helping the middle class. Before cutting short his campaign swing through Florida on Friday because of the tragic theater shooting in Colorado — he commented on the shooting in brief remarks in Fort Myers and canceled an Orlando appearance — Obama sought to make the case that his tax policies, health care program and other initiatives were helping the middle class.
Lee County, like most of Florida, has struggled to rebound from the Great Recession without the benefit of a strong housing sector, historically a key engine for growth.
While the market is better than it was two years ago, it is still limping, with RealtyTrac listing 22,421 foreclosed properties in Florida in June, or 1 in every 401. Lee exceeded that rate, with 1,153 foreclosure properties, or 1 in 322. The national rate was 1 in 666.
Carletha E. Griffin contended that housing and the economy are coming back, crediting Obama for boosting the auto industry and health care.
“He had one heck of a mess to clean up,” said Griffin, a business consultant and human resource recruiter who has lived in Fort Myers for 18 years. “It’s hard to clean up someone else’s mess.”
Felton, president of the Velasco Village homeowners association, said she weathered the recession, accepting a buyout from the construction business she had worked for over 21 years before taking on two jobs, with the school district and a private contractor for the local housing authority.
“I think the economy is turning around,” she said.
Streets agreed: “I think even though things are moving slower, at least they’re moving forward. I would say we’re on the way up.”

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