Tiger bay hosts nine St Petersburg Mayoral candidates
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06/17/09 Seán Kinane
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Nine of the candidates for St. Petersburg Mayor, including Kathleen Ford (standing), address the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

Nine of the eleven candidates for St. Petersburg Mayor discussed city issues today before a packed Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

The question from the audience that was voted most difficult required each candidate to say which competitor he or she would vote for. Scott Wagman selected a person who considered running for Mayor, but instead opted to stay on the Pinellas County Commission, Ken Welsh. Wagman says he hopes that Welsh succeeds him as St. Petersburg Mayor.

City Council member Jamie Bennett said he would support whichever Mayoral candidate would guarantee that future rail lines in St. Petersburg connect downtown with Tampa.

In response the same question, former City Council members Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster traded barbs with each other regarding one of Ford’s main campaign issues, mismanagement of city finances.

Foster responded by saying that Ford, too, had approved that method of managing funds. That led Ford to shake her head in disagreement while Jamie Bennett applauded.

Most candidates had ideas on how to deal with the city’s budget crisis. On Tuesday Kathleen Ford proposed a budget plan that includes reducing property taxes and increasing Police and Fire Department funding while cutting high-salary management positions with the city. City Council member and Mayoral candidate Jamie Bennett suggested that the other candidates, who are now coming up with ideas for the city’s budget, could have played a more active role in the budget process.

“We’re probably really going to be digging into the bone.”

Deveron Gibbons, a public affairs executive with the payday loan company Amscot, has done well in fundraising and picked up a major endorsement recently: Republican Governor and St. Petersburg resident Charlie Crist.

Some candidates, most notably Scott Wagman, say they are likely to replace Police Chief Chuck Harmon if they become Mayor. But Larry Williams supports Harmon.

Candidate Alex Haak reiterated his desire to move the state capital to St.Pete, and he guaranteed that it would be. He also suggested beautifying the city by reducing the time political signs can be displayed.

Bill Foster was asked why, after he finished serving on the city council, he wrote a letter supporting state science standards that would allow teaching of alternative theories of organic evolution. He said it was to defend the first amendment rights of children who question evolution, but not specifically to advocate teaching the creation story found in Genesis. “I do not subscribe to Darwin’s theory of evolution.”

The candidates were asked by State Representative Rick Kriseman if they had ever lobbied their state legislative delegation in the capital. Paul Congemi replied that he had not.

Congemi also said he would be assassinated if he disclosed information he had about the St. Petersburg Police Department, and said he would redirect his mayoral salary except 10,000 dollars to homeless programs.

Another candidate, Richard Eldridge, said this was his “first speech ever in politics. ... Why do you want a six figure income? … If I were gunned down on the street as Mayor, the paper would say ‘Mayor Eldridge Assassinated.’ I like how that sounds.”

The primary election is September 1st. The next Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting is July 22nd.

Previous WMNF coverage of St. Pete Mayoral race

Previous WMNF coverage of Mayoral forum

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections

City of St. Petersburg

Kathleen Ford

Bill Foster

Deveron Gibbons

Scott Wagman

Larry Williams

Jamie Bennett

Richard Eldridge

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