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Bay Buzz | Political news of Pinellas

St. Petersburg leader not stimulated to send wish list to pork-phobic feds

ST. PETERSBURG — Unlike hundreds of U.S. cities, this one did not submit a stimulus wish list to federal officials because officials said they worried that the information would be used as ammunition as Congress debated the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Internal services administrator Mike Connors said he had a list prepared but that when some members of the U.S. Senate began to paint local projects as unnecessary pork, he decided it would do more harm than good to send it.

"As soon as it started to get debated on the Senate floor, it was evident that the Senate did not have interest in spending on projects that were shovel ready," he said. "It didn't seem appropriate to submit a list of St. Pete projects when the lists they had already received were cause for them to change what ultimately came out of the Senate."

Connors said he did not think the policy debate would shift back in favor of local governments.

"We didn't see any benefit of submitting the list," he said.

But Mayor Rick Baker, who heralded the stimulus bill alongside Gov. Charlie Crist in a news conference this month, said that decision wasn't run by him.

"I would have submitted it," Baker said.

Congress and federal officials didn't ask cities to submit wish lists, but many communities did just that in hopes they might influence Congress to support the bill.

St. Petersburg has sent its wish list to the state Department of Transportation and the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization. These groups will administer or weigh in on how Florida's stimulus dollars are allocated.

The city's priorities are repairing the Pinellas Bayway Bridge and building the proposed 118th Avenue N connector, according to the list.

The connector is one of Baker's pet projects. It would link U.S. 19 to Interstate 275 and create an uninterrupted flow of traffic from the Sunshine Skyway to State Road 580 in the Dunedin-Safety Harbor area.

Election laws unclear

ST. PETERSBURG — Kathleen Ford and Jamie Bennett might have already violated state election laws.

Both mayoral candidates held press conferences complete with campaign signs in recent weeks to announce their intent to run. Ford and Bennett both filed within minutes of their press events.

State statute states, "No person shall accept any contribution or make any expenditure with a view to bringing about his or her nomination, election or retention in public office, or authorize another to accept such contributions or make such expenditure on the person's behalf, unless such person has appointed a campaign treasurer and designated a primary campaign depository."

What's unclear is whether Ford and Bennett can claim they had met those requirements before they filed or if the act of appointing a campaign treasurer is only valid once the proper documents have been filed, said Jennifer Krell Davis, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Elections.

"Someone would have to file a complaint with the Florida elections commission. They would determine whether there was a violation," she said.

Bennett's supporters carried a large campaign sign at his press conference at City Hall in January. At the time, his wife said his family had purchased the sign.

Bennett said he doesn't think he did anything illegal, "unless someone tells me otherwise."

Campaign signs were attached to the cars of several Ford supporters who rallied at City Hall during her press conference this month.

Ford said the signs were from her 2001 mayoral bid. She added that her campaign hasn't spent any money on signs. "Those lovely supporters recycled their signs," Ford said. "I've seen some in yards."

But even if the signs were purchased during Ford's 2001 mayoral campaign, Krell Davis said state statute is vague about whether old signs can be recycled.

Cristina Silva contributed to this week's Bay Buzz. She can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8846. You can visit us at blogs.tampabay.com/baybuzz.

St. Petersburg leader not stimulated to send wish list to pork-phobic feds 02/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2009 3:30am]
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