St Pete Mayoral candidates discuss stadium and crime in forum
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04/16/09 Seán Kinane
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Voters in St. Petersburg will elect a new mayor this year. This morning the first mayoral candidate forum was held, but it was outside of city limits at the Tradewinds Island Resort on St. Pete Beach. Six of the candidates discussed issues affecting St. Pete including tourism, crime, the economy, and a new baseball stadium.

In a perfect world, the Tampa Bay Rays major league baseball team would stay in their current home of Tropicana Field, according to former City Council member Bill Foster. But in reality, he says St. Pete should be ready to work with the Rays.

Deveron Gibbons is an executive with a high-interest payday loan chain and is one of the only African-Americans in the race. He says the Rays should have a stadium in St. Petersburg, “but I absolutely do not believe in having a waterfront stadium.”

Alex Haak, who was a former mayor and police commissioner in New Jersey, made headlines last month when he suggested that Florida’s Capitol should move from Tallahassee to St. Petersburg. Haak did not comment on whether taxpayer funds should be spent on a new baseball stadium, only on where there should not be a new stadium in St. Pete. “The stadium should never be built on the waterfront,” according to Haak.

Of these six Mayoral candidates, the strongest voice against a new stadium is former City Council member Kathleen Ford. She criticized the way the community found out that the Rays were seeking a new stadium. Ford says that the city could seek an injunction to prevent the Rays from moving if the team tries to break its contract before it runs out 18 years from now.

“There is an existing agreement. The City of St. Petersburg is obligated to provide a stadium until 2027. The baseball team, the club -- the Rays are obligated to play there until 2027.”

All six candidates said that tourism should continue to be an important aspect of the economy of St. Petersburg and of Pinellas County. All promised to be fiscally responsible and keep taxes down.

A member of the audience from Bartlett Park told the mayoral candidates that two to three times per week he is woken from sleep by the sound of gun shots being fired. That includes earlier this month when 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton was killed when her home was hit with more than 50 bullets. Deveron Gibbons, who grew up in Bartlett Park, recalls a murder he witnessed there about fifteen years ago.

At least three candidates did not participate in Friday’s forum sponsored by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce: city council member Jamie Bennett, minister Sharon Russ, and retired builder Paul Congemi.

Even though St. Pete’s police chief insists that the crime rate is going down, businessman and mayoral candidate Scott Wagman says crime still needs to be reduced.

Larry Williams, a former member of City Council, offers a hard-line approach to dealing with St. Pete’s crime issue.

The St. Pete municipal primary election is September first. Unless one candidate receives a majority of the vote, the top two finishers will compete in the general election on November third.

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections

City of St. Petersburg

Kathleen Ford

Bill Foster

Deveron Gibbons

Alex Haak - email

Scott Wagman

Larry Williams

Jamie Bennett

Previous WMNF coverage of Bill Foster

Previous WMNF coverage of Scott Wagman

Previous WMNF coverage of Jamie Bennett

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