Jamie Bennett pushes waterfront referendum
ST. PETERSBURG- City Council member and mayoral hopeful Jamie Bennett today announced his support to change the city charter to give voters the final say in any major development on the downtown waterfront. He made the announcement during a news conference recorded by a city TV crew.
The charter change, if approved by voters in November, would give citizens a stake in the city's historic downtown parks system, Bennett said.
Bennett plans to ask council members to consider the proposal at a meeting today.
The idea for Bennett's charter amendment came from Protect Our Wallets and Waterfront — or POWW — the citizens group that originally opposed the Tampa Bay Rays' plan to build a new stadium at Al Lang Field.
Bennett is not supporting POWW's other proposed referendum, which would give voters a say on public funding for professional sports teams.
Mayoral hopeful Kathleen Ford helped draft the language of both petition items.
Asked whether his newfound support for the measure was merely a campaign stunt, Bennett said he never opposed POWW and that the waterfront was important to the city's future. Bennett said as a council member, he chose to remain neutral throughout the debate on the Rays' stadium last year.
But some are suspicious.
POWW supporter Hamilton Hanson, a frequent critic of City Hall, had this to say about Bennett's sudden support of POWW, "It's called prostituting for votes."
But Hanson quickly added, "It's wonderful that he has come forward as public official to support this. We need leadership in this city."
Bennett's move also has raised questions about whether he is using his position on the council to benefit his campaign.
Council members often ask the city's television crew to tape their news conferences and Bennett took advantage of that this morning. He also had his council secretary set up a mayoral photo shoot with the St. Petersburg Times this week, but then said that was a mistake and that all future campaign-related scheduling would be done through his campaign.
-- Cristina Silva, Times staff writer