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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Can Scott Wagman raise $500,000?



ST. PETERSBURG -- Could this mayoral election be the most expensive in city history?

It's possible. Political consultants Mitch Kates and Larry Biddle say they are determined to make Scott Wagman the city's next mayor, and that takes money. The men -- still riding on the waves of their successful campaign to elect progressive candidate Kevin Beckner to the conservative Hillsborough County Commission -- plan to raise at least $500,000 by the general election. (If the campaign makes it that far.)

The goal is more than Mayor Rick Baker, the city's reigning fundraising champ, raised during both of his campaigns for mayor. Baker raked in $225,846 in 2001, more than doubling the previous fund-raising record for a mayoral campaign, and $189,596 in 2005. Runner-up Kathleen Ford, who will likely run again this year, built a $80,930 war chest in 2001.

Wagman and Biddle predict most of their contributions will be small donations made by voters looking to stay involved after being introduced to politics by President Barack Obama's aggressive campaign volunteers.

Biddle said the campaign will be aggressive with its Internet outreach and grassroots organizing.

Wagman, a real estate broker, entrepreneur and well-known philanthropist, has been quietly campaigning since early 2008, introducing himself to church groups, neighborhood leaders and business mavens.

That's how he won over Craig Sher, executive chairman of the Sembler Company. In an interview earlier this month, Sher said Wagman was the only candidate who sought his support. Both Sher and Wagman are Democrats. After several meetings, Sher was on team Wagman. Time will tell if other corporate leaders follow suit.

Long before Wagman's campaign announced its fundraising goal, political observers bet Wagman and Deveron Gibbons, a vice president for Amscot Financial, would raise the most money because of their business connections and personal financial successes.

Gibbons' campaign declined to comment.

Other candidates, however, say the lackluster economy isn't going to make it easy for anyone to raise cash.

"To set a goal like that in this climate, I don't know where he is going to get it," said council member Jamie Bennett, another mayoral contender. Bennett said it's too early to set fundraising goals.

Former council member Bill Foster said money won't decide the race. He also said the financial crisis would slow fundraising efforts.

"I don't think the numbers from better days are going to be maintained," said Foster, who declined to say how much he hoped to raise during his mayoral bid.   

-Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:44am]


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