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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Curran regains St. Petersburg Council Chair, is a run for mayor next?

15

December

ST. PETERSBURG -- Leslie Curran missed the last third of her 2010 term as Council Chair after she got into a bike accident that gave her a concussion and left her in an induced coma.

On Thursday, a razor thin majority of her colleagues returned her to the post by voting her in as the 2012 Council Chair.

"This lets her finish what she started," said Jeff Danner, who nominated Curran.

"Her accident was tragic," said Wengay Newton, who voted for Curran, along with Danner, Bill Dudley and the newly elected Charlie Gerdes. "She didn't make hay of it though, and she waited her turn."

Well, not exactly. Technically, Karl Nurse was next in line because he was the council's vice chair. But a late switch by one of his supporters, Gerdes, left Nurse, current Chair Jim Kennedy, and Steve Kornell in the minority, allowing Curran to leapfrog back into the position.

Council members don't get paid anything more on top of their $38,913 salary to serve as chair. But they do get to shape the debate by arranging the agenda before meetings. This allows the chair to propose which matters will be discussed and which ones will be automatically approved. The chair runs the meetings, establishing pace and tone, and can cut off other members if they run over their allotted time. Perhaps more importantly for Curran -- and city politics -- the Chair becomes the de facto voice for the entire board of eight members, raising the chair's profile so it's slightly above the others.

For Curran, that could help boost whatever plans she has for running for mayor. She ran once before, in 1997, and is the council's most persistent critic of the current mayor, Bill Foster. She said Thursday that she hasn't made up her mind yet.

"A day doesn't go by without someone asking me if I will run," Curran said. "I will have to take it into consideration."

The vote Thursday was technically a "straw" vote, a rehearsal for the real vote that the council will make on Jan. 2. But it is considered binding. Gerdes voted because he will be on the Council starting in January. It was his first act as a council member, and it proved to be a decisive one.

At first, the council deadlocked, much as they did in 2003. Back then, council members voted 49 times, stuck between two candidates, James Bennett and Foster, who was then on the council. Exhausting any hopes of changing the outcome, Foster and Bennett agreed to split the job: Bennett served the first six months, Foster the second six months.

On Thursday, the council deadlocked twice on Nurse and Curran. They floated ideas on breaking the tie. Do what they did in 2003 and split it up, or flip a coin.

Gerdes, a close ally of Nurse, hated both options. He figured Curran's supporters weren't going to change their vote. So he asked for a third vote and switched to Curran.

"Karl is big enough to accept this," Gerdes said. "I'll nominate him next year."

He said he went up to Nurse and told him after the meeting. He said Nurse told him he understood.

"But it was hard," Gerdes said. "My first vote, and it's already the toughest one I've ever had to make."

-- Michael Van Sickler, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Thursday, December 15, 2011 6:58pm]

    

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