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St. Petersburg mayoral race fueled by money — from near and far

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayoral candidate Deveron Gibbons raised $124,357 from contributors with addresses outside St. Petersburg, according to a St. Petersburg Times analysis of campaign contributions ahead of Tuesday's primary.

That's almost $50,000 more than his three closest competitors combined raised from outside the city.

The money was a source of criticism on the campaign trail. Gibbons calls it a positive.

"I have worked for years with companies and people who represent corporations," Gibbons, 36, said Friday after the primary's last campaign finance reports were released. "If I can bring any resource to St. Petersburg, as mayor, I'm going to do that. This is an asset I bring to this race."

Fundraising for the primary campaign finished at midnight Aug. 27, ending the most frenzied campaign fundraising cycle the city has ever seen.

Candidates were required to turn in paper copies of their campaign finance reports Friday, but unlike state or federal races, they are not asked to provide a searchable electronic document.

So the Times created its own electronic database of contributions given to Kathleen Ford, Bill Foster, Deveron Gibbons, and Scott Wagman, to identify who was giving to each campaign.

The database covers every donation given to the four frontrunners and in all, includes 2,472 contributors who gave $642,242..

The database is sortable by name, address, city, ZIP code, and occupation. Among the findings:

• Gibbons, an executive with Amscot Financial and former Tallahassee lobbyist, raised $17,384 from Tallahassee.

• Ford collected 26 $500 maximum contributions; Foster had 125, Gibbons had 282.

• Though he finished third overall behind Wagman's $275,292 and Gibbons' $195,461, Foster raised the most money from people with St. Petersburg addresses, taking in $77,871. In all, Foster raised $110,193.

• Gibbons had the most overall contributions with 1,028 — 481 more than Foster and 660 more than Ford. Of Gibbons contributors, 224 gave $5 or less.

Wagman, 56, a former paint manufacturing company owner, leads among candidates vying for money in downtown St. Petersburg, records show. He also loaned his campaign an unprecedented $170,000.

Wagman said he believes he needed the personal loan to boost his name recognition in a race that includes four former or current council members.

Excluding his loans, Wagman collected $71,390 from people with St. Petersburg addresses, second to Foster. Gibbons raised $65,103 in St. Petersburg and loaned his campaign an additional $5,000. Ford has raised $35,705 from people with St. Petersburg addresses.

Foster, 46, a lawyer, leads in the west St. Petersburg 33710 ZIP code as well as the neighborhoods around Snell Isle in ZIP code 33704. Foster also has raised slightly more money than Wagman in 33703, the neighborhoods around Allendale and Venetian Isles where both live.

Gibbons leads in the Midtown ZIP codes 33711 and 33712, and 33731 where he lives. Ford, 52, a lawyer, leads in her own north St. Petersburg neighborhood, ZIP code 33702.

While candidates are taking money from all sorts of places, at least a dozen givers are hedging their bets.

Mark Berset, who owns a St. Petersburg insurance agency, gave the maximum contribution of $500 to both Wagman and Foster. Former Ambassador Mel Sembler wrote $500 checks to Foster and Gibbons.

James R. Gillespie, a leader and key fundraiser for the Bayfront Health Foundation and the Florida Orchestra, contributed to Foster and Wagman.

And then there's Bill McQueen, president of Anderson McQueen funeral home and Mayor Rick Baker's former campaign treasurer. He contributed $250 each to Ford, Foster and Wagman.

"I am friends with all three of them," McQueen said. "When I have friends that solicit me for help with something, I want to contribute if possible. I think they all have certain wonderful characteristics."

The politically active residents of Bayfront Towers contributed at least $2,785 to Ford, Foster, Gibbons and Wagman. The largest single contributions came from philanthropist Gus Stavros, who wrote $500 checks to Wagman and Foster.

Other addresses aren't as easy to identify. Seven companies using the same Dunedin address contributed a total of $3,500 to Wagman's campaign. The companies, four of which use an offshoot of the name Traditions Management, are registered to Ben Atkins of Tampa. The companies mostly are listed as long-term care companies.

Atkins and his wife, Judith, also donated the maximum $500 to Wagman. Atkins said Friday he met Wagman through his wife, Beth Houghton.

"I was just amazed at their level of community give back," Atkins said. "When I heard he was running — I don't even live there — but I thought this is a type of person who you want to get into politics."

Another address, 1501 E Second Ave., Tampa, had companies or individuals that contributed a total of $5,000 to Gibbons' campaign in a single day in March. The address is listed as the headquarters for Kimmins Contracting Corp. Companies at another address in Spring Hill contributed a total of $2,500 to Gibbons less than a week later. Another $2,000 came to Gibbons from a Floresville, Texas, address.

Foster received $2,500 in June from police organizations with the same Tallahassee address. He has been endorsed by the local Police Benevolent Association.

"I think the local PBA put out feelers as to if other police groups would be able to support their candidate," Foster said. "I think those groups know that if this race is important here, it's important there."

Ford, records show, had no large contributions grouped together. She did receive three $500 contributions from Richard Sanchez, CEO of Advantica Eyecare, his wife, Sharon, and another company Sanchez owns.

The contributions are legal, because they do not exceed the individual maximum and come from different companies or organizations.

Times staff writers Andy Boyle, Darla Cameron and Cristina Silva contributed to this report.

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St. Petersburg mayoral race fueled by money — from near and far 08/28/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 31, 2009 12:04pm]
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