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St. Petersburg mayoral candidates dig into substantive issues

ST. PETERSBURG — Maybe it was the knowledge that the names on the September ballot have been finalized. Or maybe it was the absence of a handful of fringe candidates.

Whatever the reason, the candidates for mayor engaged in their most substantial conversation about policy yet Tuesday, offering specific solutions to economic and environmental concerns during a debate hosted by local progressive groups. There were still a few silly jokes, some shallow answers. But, for the most part, the candidates offered new insight about how they would lead the city.

Here's a snapshot:

Creating green jobs: Kathleen Ford said she would try to make St. Petersburg the nation's solar energy capital and invest in wind energy and recycling. Bill Foster said he would create a green job zone with land earmarked for job creation projects that the city has been purchasing in the Dome Industrial District. Deveron Gibbons said his first priority is to keep existing jobs available, and then he would look at green jobs. Scott Wagman said he would implement a "feed-in tariff" effort, an incentive program that would require Progress Energy to buy renewable energy from private suppliers for public consumption. John Warren said he would pursue all green opportunities. Larry Williams said he would combat crime, which would make the city more attractive to businesses. Jamie Bennett said he would add solar panels to City Hall and promote solar energy. Paul Congemi said he didn't know enough about the topic.

What to do about St. Petersburg's carbon footprint? Foster said he would expand the city's tree planting initiative and reclaimed water system and implement curbside recycling. Gibbons said he would not force businesses to recycle, but would encourage it. Wagman said he would enact building codes and support legislation that would require roofing materials to be light colored and reflective. Warren said he would promote conservation through historic preservation. Williams said he would study improvements in public transportation, building requirements, curbside recycling and reclaimed water. Bennett said he would require recyclable "cups, plates, every utensil," at city events. Ford said she would plant more trees, switch city workers to energy-efficient laptops, inspect every city building for energy waste and build pedestrian trails.

Ominous prediction: "The next natural disaster in the state of Florida will be water," said Gibbons, discussing the area's need to conserve water.

Is it raining yet? Asked whether they would tap into the city's reserve fund to save jobs, Gibbons, Wagman, Warren and Williams said no. "That fund is going to be very necessary," Wagman said. "I think it needs to be called the catastrophic storm fund." Foster, Bennett, Congemi and Ford said yes. "If this isn't a rainy day, I don't know what is," said Ford.

No-shows: Ed Helm is out of the country and Richard Eldridge didn't attend.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or


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, 52; former council member Bill Foster, 46; business executive Deveron Gibbons, 36; real estate investor Scott Wagman, 56; former council member Larry Williams, 64; restaurateur John Warren, 59; and political activist Ed Helm, 64.

Key dates

Absentee ballots go out July 13. The primary is Sept. 1. The general election is Nov. 3.

On the Web

For more about the candidates and their positions, go to

St. Petersburg mayoral candidates dig into substantive issues 06/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 6:22pm]
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