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Wealth may give St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Scott Wagman a huge advantage

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayoral hopeful Scott Wagman has the means to outspend all of his opponents if he taps into his personal wealth for his campaign, according to state financial disclosure forms.

Wagman, a real estate investor, is the wealthiest candidate by far, with a net worth of $4.7 million. His assets include bonds, stocks, bank accounts and real estate, including a $650,000 condominium in North Carolina.

Wagman has said he could use his own money to help his campaign reach a $500,000 fundraising goal if he makes it to the Nov. 3 general election.

"More money is always better than less money in any scenario," Wagman said. "But our expectation is that the public is going to be a large part of financing my run for mayor. This is not going to be a bought situation."

The financial records of the 10 mayoral candidates illustrate a potential advantage for Wagman in a race in which a front-runner has yet to emerge. Wagman's camp recently started blanketing St. Petersburg households with mailers and an automated phone campaign blitz.

His last fundraising report that ended in March showed he raised $41,032 from St. Petersburg voters, and loaned his campaign $20,000. The next wave of reports is due Friday.

Wagman listed an annual income at $210,084, more than half of which comes from his real estate firm, Houghton-Wagman Enterprises. He owes Wells Fargo $956,250 tied to a Madeira Beach rental property.

Wagman said he included only his net worth on the forms and excluded assets owed by his wife, Beth Anne Houghton, who owns the home the family lives in and serves as vice president of Houghton-Wagman Enterprises.

Candidate Ed Helm reported a net worth of $1.5 million, though he recently filed a hardship waiver to avoid paying the state's roughly $1,600 election fee to get on the Sept. 1 primary ballot.

He has been out of the country and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Helm, who ran for mayor in 2004, listed his biggest asset as an $850,000 property on 68th Avenue South. He listed roughly $104,000 from a retirement fund, pension, Social Security and rental income in 2008. He had more than $25,000 in credit card debt.

Corporate executive Deveron Gibbons, who has far outpaced his opponents in overall fundraising with $112,737, listed a net worth of $301,083. His television campaign ads are expected to start this week.

Gibbons owns a $675,000 house on 18th Avenue South and two cars, a 2003 Range Rover and a Chevy Tahoe. He has more than $500,000 in debt, including home loans and $8,000 for credit cards.

He listed his annual income as $201,938 from Amscot Financial, where he serves as vice president of public affairs.

Business owner Larry Williams listed his net worth as $1.5 million, much of that tied to a handful of residential properties across Florida and his $550,000 business, Diagnostic Outpatient Centers. He earned $110,000 from the company in 2008. He owes $509,000 for four properties.

City Council member Jamie Bennett, worth $135,000, submitted his family's 2008 income tax return, which is not required by state law. The documents, however, show Bennett's longtime lawn service business was losing money just before Bennett disbanded the company to run for mayor. The company earned $5,730 and spent $7,256, resulting in a loss of $1,526.

In 2007, he listed his net worth as $350,000.

His most lucrative asset is his $350,000 family home on Pinellas Point Drive, which is mortgaged for $200,000. He also listed a $20,000 car loan for a 2008 Saturn.

Lawyer Kathleen Ford claimed a net worth of $1.4 million, with the bulk of that tied to her $1.1 million home at 18th Street NE. Ford's other noteworthy asset is a collection of stocks worth $421,716. She owes $775,566 in credit, home equity and a mortgage.

Her $35,634.68 annual income is from her family law firm, Ford & Ford.

Lawyer Bill Foster listed a net worth of $450,000. His biggest asset is his $550,000 home on Dover Street, which is mortgaged for $194,000. He also owes $11,000 on a car loan. He earned $180,240 from his family law firm, Foster & Foster Attorney.

Premed student Richard Eldridge had a net worth of - $16,405. Homeless advocate Paul Congemi listed a net worth of $1,000.

Restaurateur John Warren did not submit the proper forms, according to the state Commission on Ethics. However, he submitted an affidavit to City Hall insisting he did file the form.

On Tuesday, he said he re-sent a certified copy to the state after he was notified of the missing form.

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

Want to see what the City Council candidates reported on their financial disclosures? Go to blogs.tampabay.com/baybuzz.

Wealth may give St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Scott Wagman a huge advantage 07/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:36pm]
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