nelson-smith_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — U.S. Sen. Clarence William “Bill” Nelson and state Sen. Christopher L. “Chris” Smith visited a barbershop in one of Fort Lauderdale’s predominantly black neighborhoods last month.

They were there to have an informal chat with the shop’s patrons, local business owners and neighborhood residents.

During the May 18 visit to Morris Tonsorial Palace, which is formerly Morris & McCoy’s Barbershop, the senators answered pointed questions about the economy, healthcare reform, the stimulus package and its impact on Broward County. They also discussed Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Nelson said he wanted to meet and talk with men, “specifically black men,” according to Rodney Baltimore, a radio host on HOT 105 FM.

After receiving a call from Nelson’s office, Baltimore invited local business owners to the barbershop.

“He was interested in their thoughts and concerns, primarily about business,” Baltimore explained, “and this barbershop is a respected establishment in Fort Lauderdale where men from all walks of life connect through dialogue.”

The barbershop opened in 1970, and until 1995, it was located at 2012 Sistrunk Blvd. It is formerly co-owned by the late Douglas McCoy, husband of the late environmental activist Leola McCoy.

The shop is currently at 1820 NW 19th St. in Fort Lauderdale.

At the barbershop, Nelson described the gradual increase in both the stock market and real estate as “the first glimmer of hope that things are turning around.”

Regarding the economy, Nelson said that President Obama “inherited a bad hand,” and described the economy at that time as having been “in cardiac arrest.’’

But, he said, “The stimulus money is creating jobs. We’re hoping that things will take a noticeable turn by the year’s end.”

Nelson also said that on the encouragement of President Obama, healthcare for Florida’s residents is starting to be re-worked.

“We are making it more affordable and want to offer subsidies for those who can’t pay at all,’’ he said.

The per-person cost for insurance is too expensive, Nelson said, “so the idea is to engage millions of people and spread the risks. That will lower the costs.”

Nelson said more than 47 million people in the U.S. are without health insurance, “and this is why we need reform. [President] Obama wants to have a bill signed by this fall.’’

The state of Florida received $4.5 billion in stimulus monies for Medicaid. The reform is for health insurance only, Nelson explained.

Also, over the next three years, The Minority Builders Association will administer the $3.2 million in stimulus monies received by Broward County for weatherization, according to Smith, and minority-owned businesses will receive the contracts.

“It’s the biggest win-win for us so far,” Smith said.

The Minority Builders Association helps government and private enterprise to partner. It makes resources available to help small businesses be more competitive in today’s marketplace.

It is estimated that this year, the state will spend $67 million on purchasing, according to Smith.

“We want to ensure that things like the purchase of state vehicles are made within the region, and that large businesses subcontract to and buy from the locals,” he said.

Smith said of Sotomayor that “it’s great to see a black man raised by a single mother elect a Puerto Rican woman raised by a single mother to the Supreme Court. This is evidence that America is really great.”

Willie Morris, the barbershop’s owner, said he was “pleased to see the senators show concern for the area, its residents and their concerns.’’

Morris added, “To see them out, involved with the people, and knowing that they aren’t running for any office is a pleasure.”

Baltimore said that he felt choosing the barbershop as a meeting place was a “good idea as opposed to a church or a bar where people may feel excluded.’’

“This is where black men talk,” he said.

Photo: U.S. Sen. Clarence William “Bill” Nelson, left, and state Sen. Christopher L. “Chris” Smith, right.