ST. PETERSBURG — It's not easy to stand out in a crowd of five City Council candidates, but Jim Kennedy found a way: by endorsing the Lens project and red light cameras.
Both controversial projects were mostly panned at a forum Wednesday, including by Lorraine Margeson, Kennedy's Nov. 5 general election opponent. The forum gave candidates in districts 2 and 6 a chance to respond to questions. Here is a look at some of their answers:
What is your position on the Lens design for replacing the Pier?
Kennedy said the process used to develop the Lens was a good one, with "80-some citizen meetings" and an international architectural competition. The stagnation of doing nothing could be bad for the city, he said.
"When you put it to a vote, if 70 percent of the people voted that the Pier was structurally sound, would it become? So I hope the Lens does go forward."
But his District 2 opponent Margeson shot back, "as the office manager for the Concerned Citizens Stop the Lens office… vote yes, stop the Lens."
Among the three District 6 candidates, incumbent Karl Nurse said he didn't think "the Lens works" and that the city wound up with "dramatic, nonfunctional designs."
Fellow District 6 candidate Trevor Mallory said this: "The citizens will vote on it soon and I think that's all I want to say about it." But he did go on to say "the inverted pyramid is proven in the city of St. Pete." Candidate Sharon Russ did not say whether she supports the Lens, and made references to a "contractor dispute."
Should people be refunded for tickets they were given improperly through the red light camera system?
"Absolutely and if I get on council the red light camera issue will be going away," said Margeson.
Kennedy said no, adding that he thinks red light cameras are "safety driven." To back that up, he said the number of red light reoffenders is very small, which indicates "people get one ticket and they learn." Also, he said they prevent dangerous T-bone accidents.
Nurse said the city has worked on two fixes, one regarding people making slow turns on red, another involving the timing of yellow lights. He said these fixes have reduced the number of tickets by about half. However, he said, refunds might be impractical.
Russ said she opposes red light cameras and "anything that's going to take money away from hard-working people. Mallory said people should not have to pay for improperly given tickets.
Do you support the transit referendum scheduled for 2014 in Pinellas?
Kennedy said he is a big proponent of the transit plans, not only because it would include light rail, but also because of how it would increase bus routes along a grid through Pinellas County. Margeson said she supports the concept, but thinks it could be improved with a more regional approach.
In District 6, Russ said she supports it. She has ridden local buses and "traveling across the county from St. Petersburg to Clearwater is a two-hour commute."
Mallory said a light rail system "can help us in a lot of ways in our city. It can get a lot of people from Hillsborough to here a lot quicker and a lot safer." It might even increase Tampa Bay Rays attendance, he said.
"I support the transit referendum," said Nurse, adding that he has pushed for transit reforms through the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
The forum was organized by the Council of Neighborhood Associations and St. Pete Patch, and moderated by the League of Women Voters.