ST. PETERSBURG — It's officially the most expensive mayoral race this city has ever seen.
Mayoral hopeful Scott Wagman rose to the top of a crowded field Friday, amassing a campaign chest worth $236,100 and shattering the record for the most money raised by a candidate in a St. Petersburg election.
Wagman, the wealthiest candidate in the race, has pumped $140,000 of his own money into his campaign since January, including an $80,000 loan within the last month, according to the latest batch of campaign finance reports.
"It means I am committed to this campaign and this city," said Wagman, 56, a real estate investor. "I need to invest at a higher level to get my name recognition up, remembering that I am competing with people that have been on council, have a lot more visibility than I have due to prior government service, and I have to step it up."
Wagman raised $6,565 from contributions during this last reporting period, a 24-day window that had candidates scrambling to boost their numbers as the campaign marches to an end for all but two final contenders. The September primary is a month away.
Corporate executive Deveron Gibbons dropped to second place in fundraising with a campaign kitty of $165,260. He raised $8,605 from contributors in July, more than any other candidate.
Gibbons continued to raise the bulk of his cash outside St. Petersburg. Of his 46 contributors in July, 24 live outside the city.
Gibbons still has the most cash in the bank. While Wagman burned through all but $29,093 of his money — he spent more than $53,000 just on printing and postage — Gibbons held on to $51,098.
Wagman and Gibbons, both first-time candidates, continue to outpace the other eight candidates financially.
Third place contender Bill Foster raised $7,805 in July, bringing his total to $71,491. A bustling campaign schedule has made it difficult to ask for cash, said Foster.
"The more forums you have, the less opportunity you have for a real organized push because you are out speaking, versus out raising money," said Foster, a former council member.
He dismissed Wagman's push to the front financially.
"If it's all your money, to me it doesn't count," he said. "You can't say someone has raised the most money in St. Petersburg when it is all coming out of your pocket."
Lawyer Kathleen Ford, who raised $2,431 in July, said fundraising will not determine St. Petersburg's next mayor.
"Everybody has their game plan, and we are just focusing on getting the word out," said Ford, 52, a former council member. "We are thrilled with our voluntary support and our monetary support."
Of Wagman, she said, "Who is he, and what has he done for our city?"
Business owner and former council member Larry Williams, 64, raised $4,045.
City Council member Jamie Bennett, 57, raised $3,685.
Real estate investor John Warren, 60, and Paul Congemi, 52, an advocate for the homeless, didn't pick up any cash in July.
Neither political activist Ed Helm, 64, nor student Richard Eldridge, 47, submitted reports to City Hall. Both candidates said they had forgotten about the deadline and would submit their reports by mail.
Eldridge said he didn't raise any money. Helm did not provide a sum.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or email@example.com.