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A take on the St. Petersburg mayor's race

The race to be elected the next mayor of St. Petersburg in November is starting to look like the World Series of Poker. The number of players keeps growing, and there are some interesting characters.

At the risk of gross generalization — and what is life if you can't generalize grossly? — the current field consists of:

A couple of City Council-types.

A couple of business-types.

A couple of longer shots.

There also are at least a couple of maybes, a statesman and a skeptic, who would have a big effect.

City Council-types first. On Friday morning James Bennett, 56, who just wrapped up a stint as council chairman, declared his candidacy on the steps of City Hall.

Good guy, Bennett. He got on the council as an Everyman, a fellow with his own lawn-mowing business. He is a big-hearted man who made the homeless his early cause. Also, he's funny.

Downside: As council chairman, he's been Mr. Inside, following the mayor and staff. He moved along the baseball stadium proposal, the Tierra Verde annexation and the secret Jabil Circuit deal. A little separation from City Hall would be useful.

The other City Council-type is former member Bill Foster, 45, who exited the council in 2007 in time to create some of that separation. Lawyer, knowledgeable guy, principled, able to ask questions. Prone to bursts of public moralizing, though. Really, I do not care what my mayor thinks about Darwin.

The business-types are Deveron Gibbons, youngest in the field at 35, an up-and-comer who is getting well organized early, and Scott Wagman, a real estate broker who spent a good part of his life building the family business, Scott Paints. Wagman has 20 years on Gibbons and, although my impression after five minutes was that he is a glib fellow, after 30 minutes it was that he knows what he is talking about.

The longer shots are Sharon Russ, 48, a minister and active citizen (a 2002 article calls her "one of the most outspoken residents on city violence") and former builder Paul Congemi, 52. Here's looking forward to hearing more from both.

Who else? The "statesman" not yet in the race is Kenneth T. Welch, a sitting county commissioner. He is a thoughtful public servant who would instantly be a factor. Of course, once you're in, you're no longer the grass on the other side of the fence. One reasonable bone to pick with Welch is the County Commission's passivity during the Jim Smith affair and overreaches by the former county staff.

The "skeptic" who still might run is one of my favorite and least-favorite City Council members ever, Kathleen Ford, who lost to Rick Baker in 2001. She is — this is a compliment — one huuuuge pain in the neck when it comes to oversight.

With Ford there wouldn't be any secret Jabil deals or stadium coverups, I tell you what. (There would be a lot of 12-hour meetings, hurt feelings and staff chaos.) A Ford candidacy would be the rallying point for anti-stadium, anti-City Hall sentiment.

Who knows? There might be a couple more blasts from the council's past who get into the race. As for another much-mentioned guy, state Rep. Rick Kriseman, I ran into him on the street Friday and asked if he was running.

"Not that I know of," he replied. Heck, why not? Everybody else is.

A take on the St. Petersburg mayor's race 01/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 12:23pm]
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