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Does Ed Helm have a chance to be St. Petersburg's mayor? He's not sure

ST. PETERSBURG — Ed Helm says he isn't running for mayor to be a spoiler.

But in a lengthy interview this week, Helm, 64, also avoided questions about whether he really thinks he can win.

"It's one of the things I'm listening for," said Helm, who Friday filed the necessary paperwork to launch a campaign, citing a lack of a progressive voice in the field.

Helm, a prominent but divisive former Democratic political boss, makes it 10 candidates now vying to replace Mayor Rick Baker. Helm ran for mayor in 2005, losing every precinct in a Baker re-election landslide. He also lost a 1993 City Council bid.

"I think it's important there be a progressive voice," said Helm, who retired after 26 years as an attorney with the Labor Department. "I'm confident in terms of who I am, what I've been and that I'll be speaking with a progressive voice. That's part of what I want to see happen."

The playbook for Helm focuses on the notion that government can and should do more to help residents. Among his first ideas: The city should explore offering a public access channel for residents to communicate, initiate curbside recycling citywide and grind deeper into neighborhoods to fight crime.

It's unclear how strong Helm's support could be, given his late entry into the race and the polarizing figure he has become in local politics. He was ousted as chairman of the Pinellas Democratic Party in 2006 after four months because Democrats grew tired of his aggressive leadership style. And much of the county's elected Democratic leadership has openly shunned Helm.

Still, his late entry — absentee voting begins in less than 40 days — could be a potential blow to Scott Wagman, who had been attempting to rally Democrats around his campaign, and Kathleen Ford.

Though the mayor's race is officially nonpartisan, the campaign has taken on an increasingly partisan tone.

State Republican Party chairman Jim Greer singled out Deveron Gibbons, a Republican. Bill Foster, also a Republican, has not shied away from telling perspective voters that Gibbons has said he voted for Barack Obama for president. Wagman has made it clear he is a lifelong Democrat. Ford is a registered Democrat.

Helm said he would consider dropping out of the race if Ford and Wagman could convince him they will represent progressive voters. He said he wants to meet with both candidates. "I need to sit down with them face to face and clarify some things they have said that I'm not clear about or don't sound that progressive," said Helm, without offering specifics.

Wagman said he had no intention of meeting with Helm. Ford said she would meet with him, as she would meet with "any constituent."

"There are a lot of folks running for mayor of St. Petersburg, and he's one more," Ford said.

Said Wagman: "I don't know him. I just know he got trounced by Baker."

City Council member Herb Polson, meanwhile, compared Helm's potential candidacy with Ralph Nader's presidential bid in 2000.

Nader, who was at the time unsatisfied with Democratic Party nominee Al Gore, ran as the Green Party candidate. His candidacy, most political experts agree, helped George W. Bush win Florida and New Hampshire, states Bush needed to win to become president.

"I've known Ed for a long time," said Polson, a registered Democrat, who says he tries to avoid partisan events as a member of the nonpartisan City Council. "His history would show that he hasn't been successful in the past. You know, a last-minute entry at this point, I don't know that it's wise."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

.Fast facts

About the race

Ten candidates have filed paperwork to run for St. Petersburg mayor. They are Jamie Bennett, Paul Congemi, Kathleen Ford, Bill Foster, Deveron Gibbons, Alex Haak, Ed Helm, Sharon Russ, Scott Wagman and Larry Williams.

Key dates: The primary is Sept. 1. The general election is Nov. 3.

On the Web: Read more about the candidates and where they stand on the issues at tampabay.com/mayor.

Fast facts

Ed Helm

64, former Labor Department attorney.

Education: Graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Family: Married with four children.

Does Ed Helm have a chance to be St. Petersburg's mayor? He's not sure 06/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 5:11pm]
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