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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Pete candidates could get free air time



ST. PETERSBURG-- Local candidate debates could soon air on the city's television channel.

City Council Members directed staff to figure out how to broadcast a local debate during a Public Services and Infrastructure Committee meeting Thursday morning.

The live debate would allow residents to learn about political candidates from an unfiltered forum, said Council member Karl Nurse, the city's newest election official.

"It's a great day for democracy," said Nurse following the meeting.

Most Pinellas governments with television stations broadcast candidate debates or forums before an election, according to the local League of Women Voters.

City officials have debated how to promote local elections through its television channel since last fall, after a low-profile council primary drew out few voters.

At the time, the council directed city staff to televise a local debate. Then Mayor Rick Baker came out against the program. There simply wasn't enough time to come up with a fair system before the general election in November, he said. Council members backed away from the idea and agreed to take up the issue in a non-election year.

Instead, the city aired 90-second statements from each candidate.

But with the next city election more than a year away, Nurse said city staff should have more than enough time to figure out how to broadcast a live debate this time around.

Baker said he isn't opposed to the idea.

"Two things have to happen," he said. "It's got to be fair to all the candidates involved and legal has to say its okay. If that happens, I will support it."

-Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:31am]


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