The first time they ran against each other in the 2007 race for City Council District 7, Gershom Faulkner was the favorite. He was the one with the endorsements and the political connections. Wengay Newton was the underdog who walked away with victory.
This time around, Newton is the incumbent, and the favorite.
While Faulkner said it's definitely tougher this time to run against Newton, he won't concede. He highlights the endorsement from the Police Benevolent Association and the Pinellas Realtors and his tight connections to the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce to paint Newton as an outsider.
"He's had a number of 7-1 votes where's he on the losing end," Faulkner said. "There's nothing wrong with doing that. But if you're known as being that person, you're not going to be known for bringing people together."
Newton prides himself on his dissents and says he's one of the few who, in a position of power, is willing to fight for his beliefs.
"The people put me there so I'm trying to represent them," said Newton, who picked up endorsements from the St. Petersburg Association of Firefighters (which was helmed by his brother, Win, through mid October), the West Central Florida Federation of Labor and the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County.
Through Sept. 16, Newton raised more than twice as much as Faulkner in campaign contributions, $10,152 to $4,805. Now it's a matter of whether Newton can turn that advantage into another win.
"My biggest worry is to get my supporters to vote," Newton said. "My biggest fear, the one that keeps me up at night, is they'll tell themselves I have nothing to worry about."
Will red-light cameras make city streets safer?
Newton: That's hard to determine. I don't think they'll stop any accidents. The city will make money, and the camera company will make money. But what we could do to make the streets safer is increase the yellow light interval so it's longer, and that would save lives. The cameras are to make money, and most of the tickets will be for right-hand turns.
Faulkner: Some believe they make streets safer, some believe they don't. I'd like to try them out in high-traffic or high-incident areas. I think they're a mixed bag. I don't think cameras will catch things a police officer would. But let's put them up to see if they will save lives, but I'm not positive they will. Even if we can save one life with a camera, I think it's worth it.
The city faces yet another deficit in the 2013 budget. The city's property tax rate hasn't increased since 2007 (giving residents a total tax decrease of nearly $100 million as property value has declined). Is it time to increase the rate or, absent that, ponder a new revenue source?
Newton: Before we raise taxes on anyone, we should look at all options. We can look at (wireless) infrastructure for data transmission. We have an opportunity to have a company come in to put in infrastructure. All the City Council would have to do is to allow it to be installed on city property. The company would pay the city over a long period of time for the use of that network.
Faulkner: I'd look at new revenue, but I don't have anything in particular to recommend now. That's more of a general statement. So let's look at options. But the other thing I'd say is let's support small business. If we support small business, we can create jobs and help people buy homes. Right now we have a large number of foreclosed homes, and we can collect more money if that happens. I hear small-business owners tell me that we should cut out the bureaucracy and develop a better working relationship between the (St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce) and the city's business assistance center and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's business center.
Is Mayor Bill Foster doing a good or bad job? Please explain.
Newton: I guess he's doing the best he can do. But he does cause people some grief when he makes decisions without doing the proper due diligence, like floating that he'd close Jennie Hall Pool. That caused a lot of angst. I'm not sure increasing parking meter rates is a good thing, and that's something he did without (the council's) input. People want to enjoy downtown, but they can't without a pocketful of quarters. He should have eliminated car allowances (about $200,000 for the city's top administrators). This has been going on for some 22 years, and it amounts to a pay raise. If you rate (Foster) next to Baker, I'd rate him a "C." He doesn't communicate as well as Baker did.
Faulkner: I've been hearing from the community, and most say they don't know what his vision is. I know he has a vision, I've talked with him about it, but I think he needs to do a better job communicating it. I won't say what his vision is because I don't want to misquote his vision. Overall, I think he's doing a fair job. A lot of people are comparing him to Rick Baker, who did a great job. I think he has a different vision than Baker, so it's not apples to apples.
What will you do to address the stalemate between the Tampa Bay Rays and the city on the team's lease agreement binding it to Tropicana Field through the 2027 season?
Newton: I'd get with the owners. I won't agree to opening the contract, but I would ask them that if they wanted a downtown waterfront then (in 2008), why can't downtown work now? Tropicana Field was built to lure baseball, but it wasn't built for baseball. We have the infrastructure built for a new stadium. We have the highway ramps. I think a new stadium could work where it's at now.
Faulkner: The communication needs to improve. I work well with people. I'm good at getting people to the table and getting them to agree. On the council, I'd be part of a team that will help move the situation forward.
Are tax breaks good incentives for companies, or does that just erode the tax base? Please explain what the city could do to spur economic development.
Newton: They're good in the sense that they help create jobs. Hopefully, they help people get jobs, and then they buy houses. It's an incentive to get businesses there. Cities have to offer something. Companies aren't going to come just because you're in St. Pete. I want performance measures tied to whatever incentives we offer. Just handing it to them isn't good. You have to make sure you have a return.
Faulkner: It's a good tool to have in the toolbox. But it's a case-by-case scenario. You have to look at each case differently and see what they bring to the community.