Past dogs City Council candidate
ST. PETERSBURG — Gershom Faulkner, a first-time candidate for City Council in District 7, has the support of some of the city’s political heavyweights – Mayor Rick Baker, County Commissioner Ken Welch, state Rep. Frank Peterman.
Faulkner also has been arrested three times and faced a series of financial problems, according to a review of state and county records.
Since 1996, Faulkner has been taken to court twice for failing to pay off bank loans and has been sued for not paying his rent. This February, Wells Fargo Bank began foreclosure proceedings on his house.
Faulkner said that the arrests — for driving with a suspended license and writing a bad check — and financial problems are in the past, and that they were in part a consequence of his time spent in the Marines.
He said none of it should affect the decision of voters on Tuesday.
“Coming out of the military, for a period of time finances were pretty tight,” said Faulkner, who has been endorsed by the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times. “It’s definitely in the past. The way I look at it, I’ve had to live paycheck to paycheck. I know what it’s like to need assistance and financial help.
“It’s an unfortunate experience I’ve had in my life, and I’ve learned from it.”
The Times performed Florida criminal background checks on all of the candidates for City Council. Among the seven candidates, only Faulkner, 36, has been arrested in Florida before, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Faulkner, who works for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and owns a bail bonds business, was arrested on a warrant in July 1999 after writing a worthless $220 check to a local insurance company.
According to court records, the check came from a business Faulkner started, AYO Diversified. Prosecutors said Faulkner knew the check could not be cashed.
As a first-time offender, Faulkner was placed in a pretrial diversion program. He was required to admit what he did was wrong and undergo a year’s supervision. After a year, prosecutors dismissed the case.
Faulkner has said previously he wasn’t arrested in the case. But when he was read parts of the court record, Faulkner did not contest any details.
“Honestly, it was so long ago, I can’t remember,” Faulkner said.
Since 2000, his driver’s license has been suspended or revoked five times, according to Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles records. And he was cited or arrested on four separate occasions for driving with a suspended license. Once, in Pinellas in 1998, he wrote a worthless check to pay the fine.
In two other cases, in Jefferson County in 2000 and Columbia County in 2002, he drove without a valid license knowingly, said Ann Nucatola, a spokeswoman for the state agency, who reviewed Faulkner’s record at the Times’ request.
In Jefferson County, Faulkner pleaded guilty to the charge, a misdemeanor. In Columbia County, he pleaded no contest. He was fined in each case.
Faulkner was classified as a habitual traffic offender in Georgia from 2000-2002, and his license was suspended in Florida during the same time because of the number of traffic citations he had received.
His license was suspended for a short time in 2004 and 2005 because he didn’t have insurance.
Faulkner hasn’t been arrested since February 2000 and has not had a traffic infraction since June 2005, according to the state. His license currently is valid.
“I have a record of driving faster than I probably should, especially in my younger days,” Faulkner said. “I was traveling a lot on reserve duty.”
The questions about Faulkner’s past came up recently at a neighborhood forum, but Faulkner downplayed their significance. That angered his opponent, Wengay “Newt” Newton. Newton, 44, has no criminal history, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
But Newton’s record isn’t entirely clean, either.
He was cited by police in 1994 for owning an unsafe structure. He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1998, and there is an active code violation case involving his current home.
“People go through financial stuff, that’s fine,” Newton said. “But you can’t be writing bad checks or driving without a license.”
Newton said the 1994 citation involved his mother’s house, which had fallen into disrepair after she died. He paid a fine and eventually had the house razed.
Newton said the code case likely has to do with brush clippings that had been left in an alley. They have since been removed, he said.
Faulkner and Newton are running to replace Rene Flowers, who cannot seek a third term. District 7 includes parts of Midtown and the Childs Park neighborhood.