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St. Petersburg City Council campaign devoid of election

There will be no election, but the quiet campaign for the District 6 City Council seat is well under way.

Residents eager to talk up their favorite candidate are leaving council members detailed messages, political bigwigs are tossing around the names of potential applicants, and community leaders are collecting signatures in support of one council hopeful.

The candidates also are getting in on the action.

At least three potential applicants have set up meetings with individual council members to seek their support: Thomas "Jet" Jackson, the city's recreation manager; Karl Nurse, a business owner and longtime activist; and Cassandra Wooten-Jackson, president of the Pinellas Black Republican Club.

Council members say they are eager to start the process of finding a new representative for one of the city's most diverse districts.

Earnest Williams will vacate the seat April 14. He is resigning to run for state House District 55.

Whoever is appointed to his chair will have to hit the ground running, council members say.

The city is facing a slew of complex issues, including big budget cuts, contract negotiations with the police and fire departments, and the Tampa Bay Rays' $1-billion stadium and redevelopment plan.

"The seven of us are basically giving someone a $40,000-a-year job that comes with enormous responsibility," council member Herb Polson said.

"The learning curve is going to be literally a vertical line."

That hasn't deterred the handful of candidates who have stepped forward.

Nurse, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2001, said he will apply for the seat.

"Budget constraints are going to be the dominant issue for the foreseeable future in St. Pete, so I think there is value in having someone on the council who understands how to run a profitable business," said Nurse, who owns Bay Tech Label.

Jackson, who has worked his way up from lifeguard to recreation manager during his nearly 44 years as a city employee, said he hasn't decided whether to apply for the seat. He began meeting with council members earlier this month to test the water.

"I wanted to see if they would look at me for the job," said Jackson, a political newcomer. "I am an honest person, a caring person, and I feel like I can do a lot for the city."

Other potential candidates being discussed by the city's political elite include Trenia Cox, former president of St. Petersburg's NAACP chapter; businessman Ray Tampa; Rob Eschenfelder, a former City Council candidate; and Maria Scruggs-Weston, a former mayoral candidate.

The city will begin advertising the position March 31. Candidates will have until April 16 to submit their application.

The council will choose Williams' successor during a public hearing on April 21, and the new council member will be sworn in May 1.

The seat has been held by an African-American for nearly three decades, and some community leaders already have begun debating how race will play into the council's final decision.

Kevin King, a local political consultant, recently created a petition in support of Nurse, a white man, partly to show the council that the voters would embrace a white representative. So far, more than 200 people have signed the petition.

"It would be an injustice to grant the seat to someone just because of their skin color," he said.

"Karl is probably one of the most experienced people in this community, and I don't think anyone can deny that, no matter what they think of him."

Council member Wengay Newton, who is black, said there is nothing wrong with considering how Williams' departure will affect the racial makeup of the council.

"Diversity is important," he said. "If you look at the council, there is one white female and five white males and two African-American males. This is a predominantly black district, so I think you have to take race into consideration."

But council member Bill Dudley, who is white, said he will not consider skin color.

"I have heard people say that's the black seat. I think that's pretty narrow-minded," he said. "I would hope that in this day and age we would be past that."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg City Council campaign devoid of election 03/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 11, 2008 8:21pm]
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