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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Longtime Miami political leader Gwen Margolis was expected to be ahead of a crowded field right now as she sought another term in the Florida Senate.

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Instead, a racially tinged comment at a Sunny Isles Beach Democratic Club event in June — a comment that also suggested incumbent entitlement — derailed the common political wisdom.

After making the controversial comment, Margolis exited the race in a redrawn Senate District 38, ending a four-decade political career that included a stint as Senate president. Her departure drew more candidates in the Democratic-leaning, ethnically diverse district.

The six-way field in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary is now made up of state Rep. Daphne Campbell, former North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns, former Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora, attorney Jason Pizzo, high school hospitality and tourism teacher Don Festge and accountant Anis Blemur.

While Campbell could be perceived as a front-runner because of her six years of experience in Tallahassee, the rest of the field questions her party credentials.

First elected to the House in 2010, Campbell is credited with being highly attentive to people in her Haitian-American community. However, she has crossed party lines in supporting anti-abortion measures. She also was among a handful of Democratic lawmakers who didn’t sign a petition seeking a special legislative session to address gun control after a mass shooting in June at a nightclub in Orlando.

“She appears to vote often like a right-wing Republican, more so than a Democrat representing a Democratic precinct,” Gongora said. “She was also one of the sponsors of the very controversial bathroom bill (dealing with bathrooms used by transgender people), which was against the LGBT community. And we’re very happy that the bill died.”

Campbell could not be reached for comment.

District 38 was redrawn because of a long-running legal fight about the constitutionality of Senate districts. It is 32.7 percent black and 39.9 percent Hispanic, according to the Senate redistricting page. The district also has an influential LGBT community.

Burns and Gongora, who are gay, entered the race after the departure of Margolis. Gongora said he wasn’t thinking about running until Margolis announced her retirement. Burns, who was easily defeated by Margolis — 65 percent to 35 percent — in a 2010 Senate primary, said he probably wouldn’t have run this year if Margolis were still in the contest.

Besides North Miami, Miami Beach and highly influential waterfront condominium associations, the district includes the economically struggling Liberty City and Overtown.

Pizzo holds a major financial edge in the race, as he had put up $500,000 of his own money as of July 29. He was followed by Gongora, who had raised $78,402 as of July 29 and had loaned $50,000 to the campaign.

Pizzo’s money, along with changing his registration from independent to Democrat in May, has made him a target of others running for the seat.

“I think it’s ridiculous that somebody will go ahead and spend $1 million on a race for an office that pays $29,000 a year,” Festge said. “When I see that, I think that something else is going on. I don’t think those people are there for the best interest of the people. They’re there to help themselves or to help some special interest.”

Pizzo said his self-funding is aimed at avoiding the appearance of being “beholden” to special interests.

As for the change in registration, Pizzo said he had registered without a party affiliation upon the advice of judges stressing the need to appear unbiased.

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“I wanted even my worst detractors to be able to only say I worked hard and was fair and impartial,” Pizzo said. “If you look deeper I gave money to a Democratic presidential candidate only 12 years ago, and I’ve donated to the state attorney who is a Democrat.”

Along with loaning the money to his campaign, Pizzo also had picked up $38,652 in contributions as of July 29 and had spent $348,130, of which nearly a third went to TV and radio ads.

Though he now works for a private law firm, Pizzo said his experience as a prosecutor, during which time he helped create a pilot program involving police, prosecutors and community leaders in a Northeast Miami-Dade neighborhood hard hit by gun violence, exposed him to more of the district than most candidates.

“When you look at the landscape of the other candidates, of the six of us, there is really nobody who has labored and lived and really worked, I was doing 100 hours a week, responding to every shooting, tracking kids on social media to see the core problems of groups fighting with other groups,” Pizzo said. “And I was coming home to a wife and kids in a coastal community concerned about the environmental and rising sea levels.”

Gongora is an attorney who works with condominium associations and is the only Hispanic candidate in the contest. Gongora said his career background gives him plenty of name recognition in the district, but he added that issues should matter more.

“Everybody wants the same thing, they want ethical government, they want safe neighborhoods, they want higher paying jobs for their children, and for their children to receive the best education possible,” Gongora said. “These are not issues that vary whether you are African-American, Haitian-American, Cuban-American or Jewish-American. These are universal issues.”

Festge, a teacher for 25 years who has lobbied the Legislature on behalf of the United Teachers of Dade, agreed with that sentiment.

“When I first started somebody told me, ‘You’re a white guy and you’ll never win because you’re not Jewish and you’re not black and you need to be Jewish or black in the district,’ which I totally disagree with,” Festge said. “My philosophy is that if you’re a good person and you can get your message out there, it doesn’t matter.”

Festge said he supports campaign-finance reform, reducing crime, improving job opportunities, raising the minimum wage and shifting the focus of business tax incentives from large to small businesses.

“This year I have had 83 students doing internships,” Festge said. “At the end of the year, I had three come to me and ask if I could help their parents find jobs. That’s something I’ve done throughout my career.”

Burns said he believes name recognition from his work in the community, including two terms as mayor of North Miami, will help him overcome better-financed opponents.

“When nobody knows you and you haven’t been involved in charities, you have to spend a tremendous amount of money to buy name recognition,” Burns said, referring to Pizzo.

Burns supports better pay, better living conditions, “common sense” gun legislation and restoring state incentives that attract film and television production to Florida. He added that as a Democrat in the Republican-dominated Senate, the job is also about “stopping bad bills from becoming law.”

Born in Haiti, Blemur views himself as providing a voice to the business community and working to link the Hispanic, Haitian, black and white communities in the district. He said he wants to improve educational opportunities in the district and work to reduce crime and unemployment, and he supports gun regulations.

“There is a type of leadership missing in our community,” Blemur said. “I’m running where we can create a dynamism where everyone can work and get jobs.”

Awaiting the winner of the primary is former state Rep. Phillip Brutus, a Democrat who qualified without party affiliation.

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The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.