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Jamie Bennett criticized for offer of Rays tickets via campaign manager

ST. PETERSBURG — The message said it was on behalf of "councilman Jamie Bennett." But it came from the person running Bennett's campaign for mayor.

Bennett volunteer campaign manager Peter Schorsch sent an e-mail to neighborhood association presidents last week inviting them, on behalf of "councilman Jamie Bennett," to a May 15 game at Tropicana Field against the Cleveland Indians.

Schorsch said in the note that he was offering seats in the city's taxpayer-funded suite.

"If you are interested in attending, please let me know by Tuesday," wrote Schorsch, who attached his phone number.

Council members are granted use of the city's suite, and often distribute tickets to neighborhood and civic leaders. But typically arrangements are made through the City Council office.

Candidates are prohibited from using taxpayer resources to specifically benefit their campaign. Fellow mayoral candidates questioned the e-mail Wednesday.

"As the ex-chairman of City Council and contender for mayor of St. Petersburg, he needs to keep control of his campaign, and I think Jamie has not done that," mayoral candidate Scott Wagman said.

Added candidate and former council member Bill Foster: "Any request should go through City Hall. That's the protocol."

Schorsch said Wednesday that along with campaign work, he does "a lot of administrative work for my good friend Jamie Bennett."

He said he was asked by Bennett to offer box seats to neighborhood association members that otherwise may have gone unused. There was no political message behind it, he said.

"With so much going on right now, I do a lot of typing and running around for Jamie in general," Schorsch said. "It doesn't have anything to do with his campaign."

Bennett said he has never asked the city staff to help distribute baseball tickets. He always did it himself, but since "I've got Peter riding around with me all day, I asked him to make some calls," Bennett said.

Bennett wasn't sure if he will attend the May 15 game, saying he might have a conflict.

The city's suite at the Trop has occasionally been the subject of controversy. It's one of the few tangible, direct perks city officials receive as part of a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Council members in the past have fought over who would get the tickets for what game, and have asked the city to provide food and drinks for their guests.

Council member Karl Nurse, who is running for re-election, said each council member is given the suite for five games. Nurse has asked his assistant Kewa Wright to help him distribute his tickets.

When told of Bennett's decision to use a campaign staffer to distribute city tickets, Nurse said: "That's tone deaf.

"You have to be sure to draw lines," Nurse said.

Jamie Bennett criticized for offer of Rays tickets via campaign manager 04/29/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 4, 2009 3:24pm]
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