St. Petersburg mayoral forum punctuated with jabs and jokes

ST. PETERSBURG — There were hints of bruised friendships and a dash of baby daddy intrigue better suited for a Maury Povich soundstage than a political forum.

But for the most part, nine candidates for mayor stuck to their personal scripts, rarely venturing off message or into specifics during a forum Wednesday at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

During the sold-out Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon, candidates promised to curb crime, cut the fat in the city's administrative ranks and lure new businesses.

A brief recap:

Big tease: Larry Williams claimed to be the most substantial candidate, but offered few specifics on how he would manage City Hall. Deveron Gibbons boasted his "Gibbons Plan" had four legs — jobs, public safety, open government and no new taxes — but didn't elaborate, saying he'd release more in coming weeks.

Best debut: Barring one original idea — a proposal to turn the Pier into a hotel — Richard Eldridge's policy explanations were anemic. But his simple quips had the crowding laughing with him, not at him, a feat other fringe candidates have not been able to pull off. After several candidates touted their long marriages, Eldridge boasted he had been "divorced to the same woman for about 15 years." His motivation to run? To get a better obituary in the newspaper.

Job security for the police chief: Gibbons, Williams, Eldridge, Alex Haak, Bill Foster and Jamie Bennett all said they would keep Chief Chuck Harmon if elected. Kathleen Ford didn't commit either way. Scott Wagman said he'd replace Harmon with an administrator of his choosing. Paul Congemi said the department is corrupt and Harmon must go.

Tricky question: Someone asked who the candidates would support if they were not in the race. Wagman picked Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, long considered the frontrunner until he announced he would not run. Foster picked Williams, who didn't return the favor. Haak named Bennett. Eldridge favored Foster. Congemi chose Haak. Williams and Gibbons said it was too soon to say. Bennett didn't directly answer.

Best frenemy feud: Foster and Ford are longtime allies. But when asked who she would support if she wasn't running, Ford said she had endorsed Foster until she learned he had supported a securities lending deal that resulted in a $15.8 million loss for the city. Foster later shot back, noting that Ford was on council when the city approved securities lending investments in the first place..

Hot seat moment: Gibbons was asked whether he would be a good role model for city youth given that he had two children out of wedlock and would be St. Peterburg's first "baby daddy" mayor. Gibbons calmly responded that his children were well cared for, adding "just because I don't live in their household doesn't mean they're destined to fail."

Ed Helm did not attend.

FAST FACTS

About the race

Ten St. Petersburg mayoral candidates are: City Council member Jamie Bennett; homeless advocate Paul Congemi; pre-med student Richard Eldridge; former council member Kathleen Ford; former council member Bill Foster; business executive Deveron Gibbons; political activist Alex Haak; real estate investor Scott Wagman; former council member Larry Williams; and political activist Ed Helm.

Key dates: The primary is Sept. 1. The general election is Nov. 3.

St. Petersburg mayoral forum punctuated with jabs and jokes 06/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 1:55pm]

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