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St. Pete: Ten mayoral candidates qualify for Sept. 1 primary

ST. PETERSBURG — They printed T-shirts. Plastered yard signs. Disagreed at forums, sometimes nicely, sometimes not.

But it wasn't until 5 p.m. Monday that it became official.

Ten mayoral candidates qualified for the Sept. 1 primary, the largest field in city history.

It's a diverse cast, with businessmen and activists, experienced politicians and first-timers and the city's first viable African-American candidate.

The top two vote getters in the nonpartisan primary will face off in the Nov. 3 general election.

The bulging lineup in a wide-open race was not unexpected in a contest without an incumbent. Term limits prevent Mayor Rick Baker from running again.

What is unusual is how early the field was defined, with a majority of candidates announcing or hinting at their intentions to run as early as 2008. What's more, there were no last-minute game changers or even fringe entrants Monday to shake things up.

"St. Petersburg is in a unique position," said political scholar Darryl Paulson, a former University of South Florida St. Petersburg professor. "When you had this many people entering early, it kind of precludes the notion of any one else jumping in last minute."

The candidates for mayor are: City Council member Jamie Bennett, 56, a former lawn company owner; advocate for the homeless Paul Congemi, 52, a former construction worker; pre-med student Richard Eldridge, 47, a former Marine; lawyer Kathleen Ford, 52, a former council member; lawyer Bill Foster, 46, a former council member; business executive Deveron Gibbons, 36, an African-American leader and former lobbyist; political activist Ed Helm, 64, a retired lawyer; real estate investor Scott Wagman, 56, a former corporate executive; restaurateur John Warren, 59, a longtime real estate investor; and business owner Larry Williams, 64, a former council member.

To qualify for the ballot, mayoral candidates must have lived in the city at least a year, form a fundraising committee, submit a petition of 1,000 registered voter signatures (or pay a $250 fee) and pay a nearly $1,600 state election fee.

Warren, Helm and Congemi claimed the nearly $1,600 state assessment was an undue burden and didn't have to pay it.

Candidates are not required to submit evidence of their financial hardship to file the waiver. Complaints challenging a candidate's financial solvency can be made to the Florida Elections Commission.

Congemi listed his Social Security check as his sole source of income on a financial disclosure form. Helm cited a host of income sources, including a retirement fund, pension, rent for a property in Gainesville and a Social Security check. He could not be reached Monday.

Warren valued his assets at $4.5 million and his net worth at $3 million, according to financial disclosure forms. He defended his decision not to pay.

"These are pretty tough times," said Warren, who joined the race nearly two weeks ago. "People may not easily understand that, but I was told not to feel uncomfortable filing that form.

He added, "The numbers you are seeing there reflect income, and they might not necessarily include all the expenses."

Political activist Alex Haak did not qualify for office. Activist Eric Rubin, who organized a homeless protest outside of the Mahaffey Theater during a live Republican presidential debate in 2007, filed some paperwork early Monday, but withdrew it in the afternoon.

There are five seats up for grabs on the City Council, but only three will appear on the primary ballot.

In District 4, City Council member Leslie Curran is running against printer Jason Diviki and educator Pamella Settlegoode.

In District 5, community activist Angela Rouson, retired police Officer Joe Smith and social worker Steve Kornell will compete for the seat being vacated by Bennett.

In District 6, City Council member Karl Nurse is challenged by university student Derrick Frohne and former city employee Vel Thompson.

In the general election, City Council member Jim Kennedy will face retired police Chief Stephen Corsetti for the District 2 seat.

And City Council Chairman Jeff Danner drew a last-minute challenger Monday in engineering consultant Leonard Schmiege.

Thompson, Frohne, Smith and Settlegoode all filed financial hardship waivers and qualified without paying the $400 fee.

FAST FACTS

On the Web

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

If you go

Still undecided? The mayoral candidates will debate their positions on the economy and the environment during a forum tonight hosted by Progress Florida, Clean Water Action, Alliance for a Livable Pinellas and others. The action starts at 6 p.m. at the Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. Can't make it? Check out our live blog at blogs.tampabay.com/baybuzz.

St. Pete: Ten mayoral candidates qualify for Sept. 1 primary 06/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:40pm]
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