ST. PETERSBURG — Even though she says city officials tried to stop her, city activist Lorraine Margeson will challenge Jim Kennedy for his District 2 City Council seat.
Chief Assistant Attorney Mark Winn warned her Monday that she could face a criminal perjury charge if she declared District 2 as her residence for the past year, Margeson says.
The problem: A city redistricting commission redrew council maps in March and moved her home out of District 3 and into District 2.
The city's charter requires candidates to sign an affidavit swearing they have lived in a district for 12 months before an election — in this case, the Aug. 27 primary.
Margeson, 56, who is a leader of the Stop the Lens movement, has lived in the same house in Mangrove Bay for 12 years.
"It's a total mess, not of my making," Margeson said Tuesday. "I did not take kindly that they threatened criminal action for stepping up to the plate. That's total disenfranchisement language."
Winn disputes that. He said he cautioned Margeson that signing the affidavit would mean she was affirming the information is true. He said he encouraged her to speak with an attorney before signing the form.
Still, city lawyers will not block her candidacy, Winn added.
"Anybody who has legal standing could challenge her," Winn said. "It's not something this office would raise."
Another residency issue surfaced last month in District 4.
Candidates Dr. David McKalip and Darden Rice both criticized the redistricting process earlier this year and vowed to move in order to seek office.
The Tampa Bay Times found last month that both had rented homes in the newly redrawn district District 4, but were still living in District 3. Both vowed to move to District 4.
Carolyn Fries, a third candidate, called on the city to investigate whether Rice and McKalip meet election requirements.
Council chairman Karl Nurse said Tuesday that the city shouldn't expect people to move the day new boundaries are created. And redistricting should not have occurred in an election year, he added.
"I frankly think that they should be allowed to run," Nurse said. "I don't think we have any options."
In most elections, residency issues don't surface. The Redistricting Commission, however, changed district boundaries this year as a result of population declines from the 2010 census.
The issue could get dicier if challenges arise.
The city doesn't "verify the accuracy of that affidavit" but relies on candidates to be truthful, Winn wrote in a memo this year.
The $50 million Lens is the hottest topic among candidates seeking the mayor's office and four City Council seats. The divisive issue could split votes and make or break candidates in the primary.
Until Margeson filed, Kennedy, a Lens supporter, had no opponent.
Margeson said people had asked her to enter the race, but she always told them she lived in another district. She found out that changed last week — courtesy of the mailman.
She received a new voter identification card, showing she now lives in District 2. Close friends and her husband then encouraged her to run.
When asked if he would challenge Margeson's status, Kennedy declined to comment.
Margeson, also a well-known environmental activist, said lawyers have volunteered to help if Kennedy or someone else tries to block her from the ballot.
"You can't complain unless you're ready to step up to the plate," she said. "I'm not all talk and no action."