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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate

Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.

[JOHN PENDYGRAFT | TIMES]

Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.

ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

In a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times at 490 First Ave. S, Nevel argued he had been excluded from the debate by “big money” interests and because the Times sought to silence his message.

Kriseman and Baker will take part in the debate, sponsored by the Times and Bay News 9 along with the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College, at the Palladium Theater in downtown St. Petersburg.

“It represents an attack on the whole idea of democracy itself,” Nevel said. “It represents an attempt to control what issues will be talked about in this debate.”

The Times, Bay News 9 and St. Petersburg College have invited only Kriseman and Baker to the debate. Without complete local polling, the Times decided to rely on fundraising totals to determine which candidates will participate. …

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During the most expensive mayoral election ever, St. Petersburg City Council wants to limit PAC money

A large crowd gathered Thursday to support passage of a controversial measure to limit campaign spending in city elections

Charlie Frago

A large crowd gathered Thursday to support passage of a controversial measure to limit campaign spending in city elections

ST. PETERSBURG — In front of a large group of red-shirted campaign finance reform supporters, the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday started the ball rolling on an ordinance that would limit individual campaign contributions to $5,000 from political action committees.

The vote followed hours of impassioned debate and took place amidst what has already become the most expensive mayoral election in city history: incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and his challenger, former Mayor Rick Baker.

Together the two Ricks have smashed fundraising records by garnering a combined $1 million in donations — and the Aug. 29 primary is still two months away.

The measure, backed by a national campaign finance movement and the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, was opposed by the city attorney’s office. They argued it was unconstitutional and would expose the city to millions in liabilities if defeated in the courts.

“They have shopped this ordinance around for at least a year to cities around this country,” Assistant City Attorney Joseph Patner said. “There is a reason they cannot get another city to pass this,

“Passing this is all risk in our opinion with no benefit.” …

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Drew Atkinson drops out of contention to lead the Pinellas County Attorney's Office

From left, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, Commissioner and County Attorney Oversight Board Chair Janet Long, attorney Wade Vose and Commissioner and Board Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch are seen during an organizational meeting of the County Attorney Oversight Committee in the Clearwater courthouse in February.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

From left, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, Commissioner and County Attorney Oversight Board Chair Janet Long, attorney Wade Vose and Commissioner and Board Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch are seen during an organizational meeting of the County Attorney Oversight Committee in the Clearwater courthouse in February.

As Pinellas County's 12 elected leaders work to select a new legal adviser, one of the five candidates under consideration withdrew from the hiring process.

Drew Atkinson, 44, the general counsel at the Florida Department of Management Services, notified county leaders Wednesday that he was withdrawing his application to lead the Pinellas County Attorney's Office. That leaves four candidates vying for the post, which pays more than $215,000 a year.

"I have decided to withdraw my application for the Pinellas County Attorney position," Atkinson said in a statement.

"I recognize the considerable time and effort contributed by the County Attorney Oversight Committee and others involved in the recruitment and selection process, and I have been impressed by the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the review.  It is an honor to have been selected as one of five finalists."

His statement did not cite a reason for withdrawing. Atkinson's prior positions include the Florida Department of State, Office of the General Counsel for the Governor and the Florida Attorney General's Office.

Reached on the telephone, Atkinson declined to explian why he withdrew from consideration.  …

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Hillsborough Commissioners vote to keep Confederate monument in downtown Tampa

A Confederate monument will remain outside the old Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa, county commissioners voted Wednesday.

Chris Urso, Times

A Confederate monument will remain outside the old Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa, county commissioners voted Wednesday.

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioners voted Wednesday to keep a Confederate monument on public space outside the old county courthouse in downtown Tampa. 

The 4-3 vote also included a request for county staff to budget and design a diversity mural that will be painted on the 10-foot high, 75-foot wide wall that stands behind the monument. They also voted to draft an ordinance to protect all of Hillsborough's war memorials from future removal.

Commissioners Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White, all Republicans, voted to keep the monument outside the courthouse. The board's other Republican, Commissioner Al Higginbotham, joined Democrats Pat Kemp and Les Miller in advocating to remove it.

The vote followed three hours of contentious debate and public comment.

Click here to read more.

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Omali Yeshitela leads rally endorsing Uhuru candidates for St. Petersburg elections

International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement founder Omali Yeshitela (right) endorses Eritha "Akileâ€" Cainion (left) for the District 6 City Council seat at a news conference Tuesday at the Uhuru House Tuesday.

[JOHN PENDYGRAFT | TIMES]

International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement founder Omali Yeshitela (right) endorses Eritha "Akileâ€" Cainion (left) for the District 6 City Council seat at a news conference Tuesday at the Uhuru House Tuesday.

ST. PETERSBURG — In the midst of a hotly contested mayoral primary and city council elections, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidates were endorsed by the group’s founder at a rally Tuesday.

SUNSHINE CITY SHOWDOWN: Keep up with the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race

Uhuru founder Omali Yeshitela, who himself ran for mayor in 2001, endorsed mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel, 27, and District 6 council candidate Eritha “Akile” Cainion, 20. Both have already qualified for their respective races.

“We are winning,” chanted the crowd of about 40.

Yeshitela railed against the glut of other candidates in the mayoral and City Council races, describing them as “corporate puppets.” He praised the two Uhuru movement candidates as disruptors of the status quo: rising housing costs, broken cemeteries, gentrification and “parrot-like” politicians.

“Our candidates believe that we should not be sacrificed on the altar of capitalism,” he said.

Both Uhuru movement candidates said African-American residents and businesses have seemingly been under an “economic quarantine.” The solution to that is reparations. …

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Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District chief resigns

Salvatore D'Angelo, Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District chief, announced his resignation Tuesday night. D'Angelo said he accepted a position as the executive director of the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District.

Handout photo

Salvatore D'Angelo, Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District chief, announced his resignation Tuesday night. D'Angelo said he accepted a position as the executive director of the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District.

Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District Chief Salvatore D'Angelo announced Tuesday night he was leaving the department for a new job.

D'Angelo said after a district commission meeting he accepted a position as the executive director of the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District. Aug. 4 is his last day at Pinellas Suncoast, which provides fire and emergency medical services for Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and the unincorporated Oakhurst area.

"You are blessed with some wonderful first responders," he said, addressing the Board of Commissioners, "and it has truly been an honor to serve them and you and this community."

D'Angelo said his decision to leave was drive by his completion in August of his doctorate in public administration from Florida Atlantic University.

"When I received my Ph.D., there were some opportunities that presented themselves," he said. "It was right for me professionally."  …

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Paint diversity mural behind Confederate monument, Commissioner Crist proposes

Commissioner Victor Crist wants a mural commissioned behind the Confederate memorial outside the old county courthouse that will highlight America's diversity.

Chris Urso, Times

Commissioner Victor Crist wants a mural commissioned behind the Confederate memorial outside the old county courthouse that will highlight America's diversity.

TAMPA — Don't take down Tampa's Confederate monument, "rebrand it."

That's the idea from former advertising executive and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist ahead of Wednesday's expected discussion on the statue's future.

Crist wants to leave the statue and paint a large mural behind it. The painting, which would dorn a 10-foot-high by 75-foot-wide space on a white wall around the statue, would depict the diverse faces of America with the slogan "United we all stand."

"Then when you face the monument, what really jumps out at you are all the people looking back at you from all the walks of life," he said. "However, you look at this statue and whatever your reference point may be, that gets absorbed into the overall meaning that we are all in it together."

Originally, Crist wanted to erect other statues near the monument to tell a more complete picture, but now says it would likely be too expensive. He will ask county staff to come up with a budget and plan for the mural, but he already has artists in mind. Crist will show a 90-second video Wednesday to demonstrate the space and will explain his vision for it. …

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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman makes his re-election bid official; says city can't afford to go backwards

Mayor Rick Kriseman tells supporters at Cycle Brewing that the city needs  to keep moving forward

Dirk Shadd

Mayor Rick Kriseman tells supporters at Cycle Brewing that the city needs to keep moving forward

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman officially qualified to run for re-election Thursday, then dashed to a series of campaign events in his quest for another four-year term.

The mayor paid the $250 qualifying fee surrounded by family members, then spoke with reporters in the City Clerk’s office.

“This is just the next step in continuing to move this city forward,” Kriseman said. “This is a great city, but we still haven’t reached that pinnacle yet.”

The mayor said his opponent, Rick Baker, was focused on the negative.

“I haven’t heard him push out any big initiatives," Kriseman said. "I heard him talk about how bad the city is and how things aren’t going well.”

Kriseman, a Democrat, also said Baker was being disingenuous in his argument that the nonpartisan mayor’s race shouldn't be a partisan affair. Kriseman pointed out that when Baker was mayor, the Republican stumped for the 2008 GOP presidential ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Baker’s campaign responded that Kriseman is grasping at political straws. …

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Chickens on way and costume might be next

SAFETY HARBOR — Commissioner Scott Long might be wearing a chicken suit sometime soon. At the last City Commission  meeting,  commissioners app roved  an ordinance that  allows up to four hens in single-family homes . The approval comes after heated discussion over the last few months . At a May meeting, Long, whose wife is a news designer at the Times, expressed concern over how much time the commission had spent discussing and researching chickens, pointing out that the research material he had received in his agenda packets was more than 90 pages.
“I’ll make this pledge to you,’’ he said. “If we pass this and we ever get more than 95 households in the city with chickens, and I’m still on the City Commission, I’ll come to the next meeting wearing a chicken suit.” 
In a recent discussion with the Times, City Manager Matt Spoor talked about the issue:
“You know, if this goes through I’m thinking I’ll buy some chickens just to see Scott Long dressed as one.’’
The regulations included in the new ordinance ensure that no roosters will be permitted, no eggs can be sold and no chickens can be slaughtered. The ordinance also requires stipulations when it comes to the coop and fencing. 

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Hillsborough commissioners to debate future of Confederate Memorial next week

Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday will discuss the Confederate memorial that stands outside the old Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa.

Times File Photo

Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday will discuss the Confederate memorial that stands outside the old Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa.

TAMPA — Next week, Hillsborough County Commissioners are expected to discuss what to do about the Confederate Memorial in downtown Tampa.

At Commissioner Stacy White’s request, commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting will debate not only the Confederate statue outside the old county courthouse, but all military memorials, according to a draft agenda.

The conversation by the commission will follow a call from one of their own, Les Miller, to remove the memorial, as well as a demand from Confederate advocates to put in place an ordinance to protect all monuments from removal.

Several dozen individuals showed up at last week's county commission meeting to protest Miller's suggestion. They held signs that said: "America builds monuments/We don't remove them."

Miller said the recent removal of Confederate memorials in New Orleans moved him to act now.

"It just fueled the fire that I had to get it done," Miller said. "But I wanted to make sure I did it the right way. I'm not going to say tear it down and take a chisel to it and make rocks out of it. It’s a part of history? Let it be somewhere that is a part of history." …

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Do political yard signs matter in St. Petersburg's mayoral election?

Rick Baker's campaign is all in on yard signs. Kriseman? Not so much.

Charlie Frago

Rick Baker's campaign is all in on yard signs. Kriseman? Not so much.

ST. PETERSBURG — Ah, the political yard sign. Usually decked out in some combination of red, white and blue. Sometimes it has a catchy slogan. As Election Day approaches, the signs sprout like mushrooms after a hard rain. After the election, they wilt slowly, lingering for months, a careworn reminder of victory or defeat.

As St. Petersburg’s mayoral election picks up speed (it’s already shattered fundraising records), the humble yard sign has entered the political discourse via its successor: social media.

Bill Bucolo, a Democratic activist and supporter of Mayor Rick Kriseman, tweeted a FaceBook post Monday where he lamented what he saw as a lack of enthusiasm for yard signs supporting the Kriseman campaign.

But Kriseman can’t actually distribute yard signs until Thursday, when the mayor kicks of a spate of campaign events including filing his official qualifying paperwork at City Hall.

His campaign said they’ll eventually start handing out yard signs, but campaign officials said they’re focusing their efforts on face-to-face interaction. They believe that’s more likely to move the needle among potential voters. …

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Ken Hagan already has $200,000 war chest in Hillsborough commission race

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has raised $200,000 in his bid for another term.

Times File Photo

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has raised $200,000 in his bid for another term.

TAMPA — Ken Hagan will have quite the fundraising headstart if and when someone else jumps into his race for Hillsborough County commissioner.

Hagan, the county's longest-serving commissioner, has already raised $201,000 in his bid for another term, this time in District 2, according to campaign finance reports. That makes back-to-back months Hagan has pulled in $100,000.

The early fundraising advantage is a playbook Hagan has followed in past elections: Build up a war chest big enough to scare away competition.

Hagan, a Republican, was first elected to the county commission in 2002. He is termed out of his current District 5 countywide seat but is attempting to move back to the north county single-member district that first launched him into office.

In his bid for a second term, Commissioner Stacy White, a Republican, is unopposed, too, and has also raised fistfulls of cash. He added $11,000 to his coffers in May, bringing his total to $120,000. White represents east Hillsborough. …

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Real estate investor is latest to join St. Petersburg's crowded District 6 council race

Robert Blackmon, 28, is the latest of 11 candidates to announce his campaign for the district six seat on the St. Petersburg City Council held by the term-limited Karl Nurse.

[Courtesy of Robert Blackmon campaign]

Robert Blackmon, 28, is the latest of 11 candidates to announce his campaign for the district six seat on the St. Petersburg City Council held by the term-limited Karl Nurse.

ST. PETERSBURG — The latest candidate in the crowded race for St. Petersburg City Council’s District 6 seat has a platform shaped by his work as a real estate investor ever since Robert Blackmon, 28, graduated from Florida State University in 2011.

“The environment, the economy and public safety are the three real focuses of my campaign,” Blackmon said. “Safety is important for the lifestyle of residents, and the environment ties into the economy. You can’t have one without the other.”

Blackmon said he has been involved in efforts to clean up parts of the city. In April, he and a group of volunteers picked up thousands of pounds of trash from Grandview Park near an apartment building he owns.

But he said a TV interview he gave then created the impression that he wanted to move the homeless out of the park. That’s not true, he said.

“If the homeless choose to be in the park, as long as they’re not engaging in illicit activities, I don’t think it’s a real issue,” Blackmon said. “I’d just like the parks to be clean.”

Blackmon is the 11th candidate to join the race to replace Karl Nurse on the St. Petersburg City Council. Nurse will be term-limited out this year. …

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Rick Baker has big GOP money behind run for St. Petersburg mayor

Rick Baker, left, and Rick Kriseman, right, are engaged in what is likely to be the most expensive mayoral race in St. Pete history

Charlie Frago

Rick Baker, left, and Rick Kriseman, right, are engaged in what is likely to be the most expensive mayoral race in St. Pete history

ST. PETERSBURG — A campaign filing late Friday offered a first glimpse behind some of the titans shoveling mountains of cash into the St. Petersburg’s mayoral race, widely assumed to be poised to break all records for campaign spending in the Sunshine City.

This week, Rick Baker, a former Republican mayor challenging incumbent Democrat Rick Kriseman announced a record-breaking $553,174 haul in three weeks after entering the race on May 8.

Kriseman, who has been officially raising money through his Sunshine political action committee since December 2015, quickly announced he had topped $500,000, including $110,000 in May.

Now come the details  — at least for Baker.

Amabassador and GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler gave big to the former mayor of the Sunshine City. So did Baker's boss, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards. Ron Wanek, the Ashley Furniture founder, also ponied up. As did James MacDougald, a health care financial entrepreneur and Jonathan Stanton, a constructive executive.

They all gave $25,000 to Baker’s bid to return to the mayor’s office, a post he held between 2001 and 2010.

Baker also got plenty of cash from a host of political action committee and groups. …

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In St. Petersburg's mayoral race, Rick Kriseman and Rick Baker rake in the big bucks, exceed $500,000 each

Rick Baker greets supporters at a campaign event in May.

Charlie Frago

Rick Baker greets supporters at a campaign event in May.

ST. PETERSBURG — Rick Baker's campaign announced Thursday that the former mayor raised $553,174 in the three weeks since he announced he was running for his old job on May 9.

Hours after the Baker announcement, the campaign of incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman responded that it raised $100,000 in May, bringing its total contributions to over $500,000. Thursday's dueling announcements were the opening salvo in what is widely expected to become the most expensive mayoral race in St. Petersburg history.

Baker called the financial support an endorsement of his vision of a "seamless city." His campaign said the haul broke all records for a mayoral election.

SUNSHINE CITY SHOWDOWN: Keep up with the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race

“Whether it’s five dollars or five hundred dollars, I’m honored to have the support of so many of my neighbors,”  Baker said in a prepared statement. “The overwhelming support from contributors is an endorsement of our vision for a seamless city and our laser-like focus on fixing things right here in St. Petersburg.” …

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