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St. Petersburg elects first openly gay official

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council will welcome one fresh face: Steve Kornell.

He earned more than enough votes to beat fellow newcomer Angela Rouson in a District 5's race. Incumbents swept the city's other four council races.

When he takes office Jan. 2, Kornell will become the first openly gay person elected to office in St. Petersburg. It's a significant milestone in a city with a large gay community that has faced opposition to pride displays under conservative leadership.

"The thing about making history is fine," he said. "But this campaign was really about the future of St. Petersburg and that's what I plan to focus on for the next four years."

Kornell, a Pinellas County schools social worker, received 59.5 percent of the vote. Rouson, a mother of five, former marketing professional and wife of state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, received 40.5 percent.

"I have no regrets," said Rouson. "I am very proud and pleased and we worked very hard. I'm proud of the folks who worked for me. We fought a good fight. District 5 couldn't have lost no matter what the results were."

Kornell has an extensive background working with city recreation centers, running both Childs Park and Shore Acres. He wrote a grant that still brings in millions for teen programs. He hopes to help prevent crime and increase youth activities and jobs. He advocates using Penny for Pinellas money to put solar panels on city buildings.

Jamie Bennett resigned his District 5 seat to run for mayor, leaving no incumbent. Rouson and Kornell, both 43, ran races largely free of mudslinging. They had similar outlooks for the city and both played up their experience working with children.

"She ran a great race," said Mayor Rick Baker, who publicly endorsed Rouson. "But the guy she ran against is a good guy and ran a great race, too. Nothing to be ashamed about."

Incoming Mayor Bill Foster said he was pleased with the results of the entire City Council races. He spoke with many of the elected members Tuesday night and said he respects them all.

"There will be no power plays or egos," he said about working with the council. "It isn't about me."

City Council members serve four-year terms and earn $40,117 annually. Here's how the rest of the races played out:

District 2

In the council's closest match, Jim Kennedy earned 55.7 percent of the vote, beating newcomer Stephen J. "Steve" Corsetti, who earned 44.3 percent.

Kennedy, 52, was appointed to the council when member John Bryan committed suicide in 2007. A lawyer active in the community, he had never held office before. On the council, he became known for reading documents extensively and chairing two committees.

"I think it all comes down to my experience with the community," he said. He said he wants to "get some things done" in his first full term.

Corsetti, 65, has served as vice president of the Riviera Bay Civic Association and police chief in the small New Hampshire town of Danbury. He raised heavy campaign money and was backed by influential supporters. But it wasn't enough.

"Obviously the most qualified person didn't win," he said.

District 4

Leslie Curran, a 12-year council veteran, captured 72 percent of the vote to beat writer and educator Pamella Settlegoode, who earned 28 percent.

Curran, 53, owns Interior Motives art gallery and design business and has led efforts to turn the 82-year-old Crislip Arcade on Central Avenue into an artist community. She launched Art in the Park at Williams Park and served on the Pier task force. She's ready to add more years to her tenure.

"I'm excited," she said. "I think it's great. Every year, there's something different, and four years flies by. There are a lot of initiatives that I've started with the community that I want to continue over the next four years."

Settlegoode, 60, is a fifth-generation St. Petersburg resident who decided to run after reading the newspaper and getting concerned about city issues. She led a grass-roots campaign for change with the help of two students.

She waited for returns at Savannah's Cafe, across from Curran's gallery. When it was over, the two women walked outside and shook hands.

"There is a lot to be done, and I do feel a shift in Ms. Curran," said Settlegoode. "I think that our campaign, I don't want to be bodacious, but I think we have had an impact."

District 6

Karl Nurse earned 73.8 percent of the vote to retain his council seat, beating Vel Thompson, who earned 26.2 percent.

Nurse, a community activist who owns a printing business, was appointed to District 6 last year, becoming the first white man to represent the area in decades. Nurse, 55, pushed for open meetings and records and using government stimulus money to hire police officers.

"I think I succeeded in communicating the work that I have done on open government, on issues involving energy, and on helping people in times that are tough," Nurse said, singling out economic programs to fight predatory lending and foreclosures.

Thompson, a 51-year-old cosmetology student and former manager of the city's neighborhood team, pushed for less waste and more neighborhood policing. She had said representation by an African-American such as herself would help the district full of predominantly black neighborhoods take pride.

District 8

Incumbent Jeff Danner received 72.2 percent of the vote, beating Leonard Schmiege, who received 27.8 percent.

Danner, 49, was a carpenter and contractor working on historic homes who served on government boards before working his way to the City Council. He focused on transportation and boosting local business districts.

"I just think people realized it's not the time to make drastic changes right now," he said. "It's about working to solve our problems and we need experience, and that's what the people wanted."

Schmiege, 40, got some attention when he brought a video­camera to a council meeting and captured a brawl at City Hall. The self-employed technology fan and free-speech advocate wanted more transparency in government. Win or lose, he thought the results would be more in his favor.

"I thought I did a great job, ran a great race, used a full spectrum of campaign techniques," he said. "I'll be involved in the community in one way or another."

Times staff writers Aaron Sharockman and David DeCamp contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

St. Petersburg elects first openly gay official 11/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 12:14am]
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