Little-known mayoral candidates in St. Pete make a showing at City Hall debate

08/16/13 Janelle Irwin
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St. Pete mayoral candidates, Kathleen Ford, Rick Kriseman and incumbent Bill Foster have taken to many stages to earn votes, but two other candidates – Anthony Cates and Paul Congemi have been mostly unheard of. Until now. On Thursday night, Cates appeared at a debate in midtown and again last night at a forum at City Hall in downtown.

“Pretty much my whole life has prepared me for this moment. From when I was in elementary school, I was a part of the safety patrol. [In] middle school I was a mentor tutor; I was a part of 500 roll models in what has grown today to 5,000 role models also where I mentor and tutor my peers. Going to high school, I was a part of student government, I had the opportunity and chance of meeting now presidential Barack Obama.”

Cates’ biggest revelation of the night – he would take a 53% pay cut on the job’s more than $150,000 salary. Another candidate finally throwing himself into the spotlight is Paul Congemi. This is Congemi’s second bid for the top city job. When Congemi wasn’t quoting the bible or admitting he didn’t know enough about a topic to answer it, he focused on his campaign slogan- that he will fight immorality with morality. When asked about rampant crime, Congemi pointed to drug and prostitution epidemics on 34th street and blamed greedy cops.

“The top law enforcement officers in this country are getting their palms greased.”

One of the only other questions throughout the night the former New Yorker gave a straight answer to was about the future of the Rays in St. Petersburg. Congemi said he’d like them to say, but he has a bit of a beef with owners.

“Five dollars for a hot dog? Five dollars for a soda? Ten dollars or $20 to park your car. How is the common man going to be able to take his family to a game when it’s going to cost a couple hundred dollars. So, my gripe is with the owners. Get rid of the greed. Lower the prices. You will fill the stadium with common people.”

Problems surrounding development in Midtown as well as a public outcry for police to tame their pursuit policy have taken a large roll in debates heading up to the August 27th primary. Both Kathleen Ford and Rick Kriseman have said they want St. Pete cops to return to a community policing model. But during last night’s debate, Foster called that a failed policy.

“That we’re going to take some of our other officers that are doing very specialized work to combat crime in the city, to put them into a neighborhood, that’s simply old school.”

Other common topics during the mayoral race have been public education and what to do with the city’s pier. Responses from the 3-front runners sounded the same as all of their previous debates. But last night they also chimed in on historic preservation.

“Well, I love historic preservation.”

Kathleen Ford responded to an audience question asking whether there’s ever a time to choose big development over historic preservation.

“In the Old Northeast in my early efforts at neighborhood preservation there is that we had some concerns that we would lose some of our wonderful old homes for big condo towers because there was some pressure there in the late 80s. And so I worked closely with the St. Petersburg preservation on various issues and I think we can do more to recognize our historic homes.”

Mayor Foster said he’s all for historic preservation. He used the privately owned historic Detroit Hotel as an example.

“And it’s a balance because you have to balance the private property interest of an owner with their ability to develop verses a true importance to a community to preserve its history.”

Candidates were asked what advice they had for young people interested in getting involved in politics. Rick Kriseman quipped, “Don’t do it” to a roar of laughter before admitting he was only kidding.

The debate was moot for a lot of people. According to the Supervisor of Elections office, more than 20,000 voters have already turned in the mail in ballots. That’s about 33% of those who requested one.

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