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Williams hopes voters remember him

ST. PETERSBURG — Larry Williams hopes people remember what made him popular almost a decade ago.

His work in the southern neighborhoods of St. Petersburg. His quest to make education a part of the city government's portfolio. His ability to mediate often tense and bitter council exchanges.

But when it comes to running for mayor, Williams is hoping for different results.

Williams, who finished a disappointing third in the 2001 mayoral primary, is again seeking the city's top job.

"I think I did a pretty good job on council," said Williams, 64, who served from 1995-2001. "People that know who I am, know how I handle things. I think that's pretty important right now."

For Williams, the question is how many people still know who he is.

A city resident since 1964, Williams largely disappeared from the public scene after the 2001 election.

Getting reintroduced to city voters could be difficult in such a crowded field, which includes four former or current City Council members and two local businessmen who could spend $200,000 or more on a primary campaign.

"Larry's still well known in all parts of the city," said Williams supporter and former Mayor Randy Wedding, explaining how he thinks Williams can combat a fundraising disadvantage. "Mostly what he has to do is remind people of his service and get their recollection up to speed."

On the council, Williams was thought of as a peacemaker who forged compromises out of potentially bitter disputes. He also focused on the neighborhoods he represented at the southern end of St. Petersburg, building a new library and expanding recreation and ball fields for children.

He pushed adding education to the city's agenda — before it became Mayor Rick Baker's pet issue, he says — and organized the first meeting between the Pinellas School Board and City Council.

Williams also opposed some subsidies for groups like the Florida International Museum and was among the first on council to criticize large taxpayer subsidies at the Pier.

His history mirrors some of his priorities for the next four years — eliminate the subsidies at the Pier, rebuild BayWalk and stop panhandling downtown.

"People who pay their taxes should expect to be safe in their downtown," Williams said.

Williams held his first fundraiser at a BayWalk restaurant in April, he said, to make a statement. When he addressed the crowd, he stood in front of the ceremonial gold shovel he used to break ground on the downtown entertainment complex.

"Quite frankly, we messed (BayWalk) up," he said. Williams wants to solicit ideas from entrepreneurs nationwide.

On the Pier, Williams said he will not spend the $50 million in city and county tax revenue available for upgrades unless the money completes the renovations and a plan is in place to reduce or end annual Pier subsidies of nearly $1.5 million.

He invokes a traditional Republican phrase, saying taxes are "your money."

Williams, who is married and has five children, has built a sleek Web site with the help of a former employee and friend of one of his sons. Wedding said he's been enthused by the number of young people getting behind Williams' campaign.

Williams is the owner of a diagnostic imaging company with offices in St. Petersburg and three other Florida cities.

Among his clients: the Tampa Bay Rays, the baseball team seeking a new stadium financed in part by city tax dollars.

Williams provides X-ray imaging equipment for the Rays at Tropicana Field. He has badge access to the team facilities and says the Rays' business makes up between 1 and 3 percent of the company's overall sales.

The contract has been in place since the Rays started playing in 1998. "It's not a conflict," he said.

Officially, Williams says he would support a new stadium if it is needed to keep the team in St. Petersburg. But his first preference is to keep the team playing at Tropicana Field.

"Baseball for St. Petersburg, I think, is critical," said Williams, a Rays lifetime season ticket holder. "I've got no questions in my mind what this baseball team does in our community. How we support this team in the next couple of years, that's the key issue."

.Fast facts

About the job

St. Petersburg's mayor is elected to a four-year term and is paid $162,314. As the city's chief administrator, the mayor oversees an operating budget of roughly $217 million and 2,800 municipal employees.

Key dates

Sept. 1: primary.
Nov. 3: general election.

Larry Williams, 64, president of Diagnostic Outpatient Centers

Education: graduate of the Mound Park Hospital (Bayfront Medical Center) School of Radiologic Technology.

Family: wife Pam, five children.

Web site: www.larrywilliams

Williams hopes voters remember him 05/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 4:56pm]
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