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In St. Petersburg mayoral forum, three candidates pledge support for Pride events

St. Petersburg's gay community has long criticized Mayor Rick Baker for his lack of support for the St. Pete Pride festival and parade, so the first question for mayoral candidates at Monday night's forum was no surprise.

St. Pete Pride organizers wanted to know if any of the major mayoral candidates would support and attend the event or sign the City Council's annual proclamation recognizing St. Pete Pride Month.

Baker has neither attended nor signed the proclamation during his tenure.

Candidates Scott Wagman, Jamie Bennett and Kathleen Ford pledged their full support.

Larry Williams said he would not attend or sign because of his "traditional beliefs." Bill Foster, who said he attended once before, said he won't sign or attend Pride as long as it continues to be so adult-themed.

The candidates also were asked if they would work to bring domestic partnership benefits to the city.

Wagman, Bennett, Ford and Williams said they would. Foster didn't give a direct answer, but said he would work to make sure that the city's benefit package is competitive, and if that meant offering partner benefits, then absolutely.

Other highlights:

Funniest line: Wagman promised to politick at Saturday's Pride event with "Waggers for Wagman," which will include "some of the gayest dogs you'll ever see."

What do to with those bored youth? Foster thinks someone needs to start a teen nightclub that the city could support. "If we do it and put it in a rec center, it won't be cool." Ford suggested creating "galactic shuffleboard" using the downtown courts.

Uncomfortable moment: Candidates Alex Haak and Paul Congemi attended, but were not allowed to speak. Organizers said they invited candidates six weeks ago when neither had qualified or raised money. They did not want to change the format because of time constraints, but both men were allowed to give three-minute statements.

Transit talk: Bennett touted light rail, saying people should be able to take a train to a baseball game. Foster said light rail needs to run from Tampa International Airport to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. TIA is proposing $1 billion in improvements "when we have runways and terminal and baggage space right here in Pinellas County that is not being used."

Homeless talk: Williams said homeless people and panhandlers are not the same. Homeless people have fallen on hard times. Panhandlers make their living that way and are "destroying downtown." He said the city needs tougher ordinances.

Loudest applause: During his closing statement, Wagman lamented the fact that gay people can foster children in Florida, but not adopt them. He also said sexual orientation is not a choice.

No-shows: Ed Helm, who was invited, but is out of the country, and Deveron Gibbons, who said work commitments prevented him from coming. Candidate Richard Eldridge said he wasn't invited.

Heather Urquides can be reached at hurquides@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2253.

>>FAST FACTS

About the St. Petersburg mayor's race

The 10 candidates for mayor are: City Council member Jamie Bennett, 56; homeless advocate Paul Congemi, 52; pre-med student Richard Eldridge, 47; former council member Kathleen Ford, 53; former council member Bill Foster, 46; business executive Deveron Gibbons, 36; political activist Alex Haak, 77; real estate investor Scott Wagman, 56; former council member Larry Williams, 64; and political activist Ed Helm, 64.

Key dates

The primary is Sept. 1. The general election is Nov. 3.

On the Web

For more about the candidates and their positions, go to tampabay.com/mayor.

In St. Petersburg mayoral forum, three candidates pledge support for Pride events 06/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 2:55pm]

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