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Anti-rail tax group lacks elected allies

Standing alone, front and center

There was a moment at a rally last week for the main group opposing the county transit referendum when it became abundantly clear just how wide the gulf is between the local tea party and the Pinellas Republican Party.

Organized by the group No Tax for Tracks, the event drew more than 100 people to a Largo church, where they watched an hourlong presentation on the proposal to raise the county's sales tax for an expansion of the bus system and the construction of passenger rail. But before that got under way, one of the event's organizers asked elected officials to stand and be recognized.

Everyone looked to the left. Everyone looked to the right.

Only one person was standing: County Commissioner Norm Roche, who has been the sole voice of opposition on the commission to the transit tax. As the debate over whether to approve the tax increase heats up (it'll be on the Nov. 4 ballot) look for him to be exactly where he was on Tuesday night — front and center among the plan's critics, dressed in the campaign's color of stop-sign red. And look for much of the Republican Party to be on the other side of the issue.

Kriseman heads south to watch TV

When the nation tunes in on Tuesday to watch President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will watch the address with members of the Democratic Club of Sarasota.

"Rick's victory in the recent election is a big win not just for St. Petersburg but for all Democrats in the state of Florida," according to a statement on the club's website. "A past speaker at club luncheons, Rick is a favorite with our members.''

Sarasota Democrats ran phone banks to help track down absentee voters for Kriseman in November, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported.

This time, candidate wants to be sheriff

Perennial candidate Paul Congemi, top right, wants to be the sheriff.

The St. Pete resident and two-time mayoral loser says he filed paperwork to challenge Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, right, in 2016. Congemi, 56, a singer and songwriter, didn't make it out of the mayoral primaries in 2009 and 2013.

"This is bigger than the mayor's race," Congemi told the Buzz on the telephone. "I intend to win against Robert Gualtieri."

Gaultieri welcomes that challenge.

"Anybody has the right to run for anything," Gualtieri said. "It's a tremendous amount of responsibility."

Money where their mouths are

St. Petersburg City Council members met last week in the first of many workshops about next year's budget. Very quickly, they came to a consensus.

It's time to make "economic development" more than a buzz phrase, they said. Council member Charlie Gerdes, left, said he wants to see the city spend $300,000 to $350,000 more on the issue.

"We can leverage that three or four times with private partnership," he said, adding the city must spend to "get on the road, go pitch these employers with $60,000- to $80,000-a-year jobs and get them here."

Shoring up reserves and investing in an arts endowment and youth employment programs were other priorities, members said. Officials also said they'd like to get moving on a new police station, increasing savings through sustainability measures and giving raises to city employees.

Council Chairman Bill Dudley joked leaders could solve everything if they just invested in a printing machine to make more money.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @markpuente. Anna Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com.

Anti-rail tax group lacks elected allies 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 4:44pm]
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