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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Newton faces challenge in old foe

ST. PETERSBURG -- When Gershom Faulkner ran against Wengay Newton in 2007 for the District 7 seat, many considered Faulkner the favorite.

After all, it was Faulkner, a self-employed business and political consultant, who had the endorsements of then-mayor Rick Baker and other top officials. But it was Newton who won.

Now, Newton will have to do it again.

Since January, Faulkner has been running for Newton's seat. And again, he's trying to line up the city's political establishment behind him. He's raised $1,025 through March. Newton has yet to begin raising money. Former City Council Member Rene Flowers is a consultant on Faulkner's campaign. On Monday, Faulkner showed up at St. Petersburg Together, an effort that Council Chair Jim Kennedy is leading to discuss divisive community efforts. The city's getting $5,000 in private donations to organize, and it has the full support of the Council, except Newton, who said it's just more talk and no action.

"I knew that he opposed it, but that's not why I showed up," said Faulkner, 40. "I think it's worthwhile. I know that's a difference between us. I know what he's saying, but we have to be part of the dialogue."

Another way Faulkner will set himself apart from Newton is his stance on gay rights. He lost support among some key Democrats when he said he couldn't support the "gay lifestyle" because of his religious beliefs. Faulkner is a Christian.

Now, Faulkner says he believes that was offensive. After speaking with several gay people since then, he's been told that they didn't choose to be gay, that it was a biological characteristic. He said he doesn't necessarily believe that, but is willing to change the way he talks about gay issues because he now considers his earlier remarks to be insensitive.

Still, he won't say whether he supports civil unions between two gay people. 

"That's not an issue that comes up before the City Council," he said.

But every year, the City Council signs a proclamation supporting the St. Pete Pride celebration, a parade that has become one of the city's biggest events. While Faulkner said he'd support the parade -- "I will treat it as any other parade in this economy" -- he would not say he'd sign the proclamation touting it until he reads it.

"I'd have to take a look at it and make sure I don't contradict who I am or my Christian beliefs," Faulkner said.  

In 2007, Newton criticized Faulkner's position on gay rights. When asked Friday about Faulkner's latest thoughts on the issue, Newton laughed, and then changed the subject.

"I don't know about all that," he said. "I want people to evaluate me on my body of work. He doesn't have a body of work."

-- Michael Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer


[Last modified: Monday, May 23, 2011 12:17pm]


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