USF-St. Pete to moderate city-hosted debate
ST. PETERSBURG -- The University of South Florida St. Petersburg beat the League of Women Voters in a bid to facilitate a debate for the upcoming St. Petersburg city elections.
The City Council is required to pick an impartial host for the debate, which the city’s television station WSPF-TV will broadcast from the council chambers. Although most council members said at a meeting Thursday meeting that the League of Women Voters would host a fair debate, the overarching consensus was that USF St. Pete would give a better appearance of impartiality.
“The League of Women Voters is a great, great, great group of people who really enhance our democratic process,” council member Bill Dudley said. “I just don’t want any impropriety or any thought of impropriety to damage our reputation.”
USF St. Pete plans to involve students in planning the debate and generating questions. The council has yet to set a time and date.
The League of Women Voters hosted the StPeteTV debate in 2011. This time around, council members were concerned about the group’s impartiality because they recently lobbied on issues expected to play a role in this year’s election, namely recycling. Additionally, District 4 candidate Darden Rice is a past president of the league.
“We don’t come in with an agenda,” said Karen Coale, president of the League of Women Voters of St. Petersburg. “Not at all.”
She added that it’s not uncommon for former League of Women Voters members to run for office.
Although USF St. Pete has had a stake in many past city initiatives, council members agreed that those issues would likely not come up in a debate this year.
It would be nearly impossible to find a third party to host the debate that has no connection to any city issues, council member Steve Kornell noted.
Community activist Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter and District 4 candidate David McKalip, a neurosurgeon, each took the podium to urge the council not to use the League of Women Voters. Lassiter also spoke against USF St. Pete.