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Charlie Gerdes, Bob Kersteen win St. Petersburg District 1 primary, will square off in Nov. 8 general election

ST. PETERSBURG — Experience won out over youth during Tuesday's District 1 City Council primary as political veterans Charlie Gerdes and Robert Kersteen beat newcomer Joshua Shulman.

Gerdes won 52 percent of the vote, followed by Kersteen with 28 and Shulman with 20.

"I'm really overwhelmed. The numbers are better than what I envisioned," Gerdes said. "We didn't take anything for granted. We were on the phones nonstop. We knocked on doors the last month. We sent out a lot of direct mail. We just kept working."

Money helped.

Through Friday, Gerdes had raised $21,220, outpacing Kersteen's $6,461 and Shulman's $6,049. Since 2003, the candidate with the biggest war chest has won 12 of 15 council races.

Gerdes, 54, is a well-known commodity. A lawyer, he lost a 2006 race for the Florida House. In 2002, he was the county fundraising chairman for Bill McBride's failed bid for governor.

Eagle Manor resident Carmen Stover said she didn't know much about Gerdes until she saw a neighbor's yard sign.

"They said he was a friend and that he was the best one in the race," Stover said. "After reading more about him, I think he has the experience and the knowledge to do the best job."

Gerdes will face Kersteen, 74, who served on City Council from 1995 to 2001, in the Nov. 8 general election.

Like Gerdes, Kersteen's prospects were boosted by name recognition.

"People remember me for when I served before," Kersteen said. "They remember my record on fiscal responsibility and public safety."

His experience won him the endorsement of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, said St. Petersburg police Detective Mark Marland, the union's president.

"What put (Kersteen) over the top for us is that he had been on council," Marland said. "Not that the other two candidates were bad. We were happy with all three. It was just that (Kersteen) was proven. When he was on council, he was good on public safety."

Kersteen downplayed concerns about Gerdes' financial advantage, which will be more important now that the race shifts to the entire city.

"They got the message out, we didn't during the primary," Kersteen said. "But the money speaks for itself."

Gerdes, he noted, spent $17,498, or about 83 percent of his contributions, during the primary, while Kersteen spent $2,843.

"It cost us $3.59 per vote, and it cost him $11.74 per vote," Kersteen said. "We're running a more efficient campaign."

Gerdes said he hopes to raise another $30,000 for the general election.

Shulman, a 35-year-old financial planner, said he doesn't think Kersteen has a chance.

"I feel bad for Bob because he's going to get crushed," Shulman said. "Charlie is a much stronger candidate. He has a greater passion for what the city's going through."

The three candidates agreed on many of the issues, such as supporting a new police station and all public safety needs. None supported digital billboards or car allowances for the city's top administrators and managers. They all favored same-sex domestic partner benefits for firefighters and talked of ending the city's stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays over a new stadium.

Shulman tried to distance himself from the two experienced politicos by emphasizing his age as a positive addition to the council, where the average age is 55.

"I think we need new blood," said Randy Krause, a retired St. Petersburg police officer who voted for Shulman Tuesday. "We need someone with insight into our city's younger population."

Shulman's biggest obstacle was the primary, where older voters turn out at a greater rate than younger ones, especially in a year without a mayoral or presidential race.

The last time there was a primary alone on the ballot was 2007, when turnout was 11 percent. This year, turnout was 14.25 percent, with 78 percent of that via mail ballot.

Only 627 of the district's 20,155 registered voters, or 3 percent, cast votes Tuesday.

"About 75 percent of the mail ballots were in before the first candidate's forum," Shulman said. "That should speak volumes. People voted without knowing who the candidates really were."

Herb Polson, who defeated Kersteen in 2007 for the seat, chose not to seek re-election.

Eight members serve on the council, which collectively serves as a legislative check on the city's strong mayoral branch. Members serve four years and earn $38,900 annually.

Election results

The top two candidates in Tuesday's primary will square off Nov. 8.

Charlie Gerdes 1,490 52%

Robert Kersteen793 27.7%

Joshua Shulman 581 20.3%

Turnout : 14.25 percent

Source: city of St. Petersburg

Charlie Gerdes, Bob Kersteen win St. Petersburg District 1 primary, will square off in Nov. 8 general election 08/30/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 12:01am]
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