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St. Petersburg mayor candidate Wagman says he'd fire police chief Harmon

ST. PETERSBURG — Scott Wagman can forget getting the police chief's vote.

The St. Petersburg mayoral candidate said if elected he will find a new chief to replace Chuck Harmon.

"We need an urban-experienced police chief that understands the strategies and tactics necessary to get control of our crime problem in St. Petersburg. I can find that person," Wagman said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.

"Yes, most likely," he said when asked whether Harmon would be replaced.

The businessman and philanthropist is the first major candidate for mayor to say they would axe the low-key police chief.

Most of the candidates, including Wagman, until now had said only that they intended to review top administrators once in office. Only City Council member Jamie Bennett has said he intends to keep Harmon in the job.

"A new mayor has the right to choose their leadership team, and I respect that right," said Harmon. "(Wagman) seems like a nice enough guy, but I would hope before anybody makes that kind of recommendation they would sit down with the person and do an evaluation."

Harmon said Wagman has never talked to him about the department's practices or philosophy, though he has had such conversations with candidates Bill Foster, Deveron Gibbons and Larry Williams.

Despite statistics showing a declining crime rate during Harmon's seven-year tenure as chief, he has received criticism for his low profile and not doing more to reassure city residents on public safety.

Demeanor is less important than results, said Wagman, calling crime the top issue on the campaign trail.

"The issue is the disconnect between the statistics that are quoted all the time by the Police Department and what people feel actually in the streets," Wagman said in the interview that airs today at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Candidates Bennett and Gibbons have given Harmon strong marks for his leadership of the department. Kathleen Ford, while saying only that she will review senior positions, has said she is skeptical of the department's crime statistics and questioned whether it has enough officers.

Two long-shot candidates, Paul Congemi and Sharon Russ, also have said they would fire Harmon.

Times staff writer Cristina Silva contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com or (727)893-8241.

fast facts

What they're saying

"The issue is the disconnect between the statistics that are quoted
all the time by the police department
and what
people feel actually in the streets."

Scott Wagman,
St. Petersburg mayoral
candidate

"(Wagman) seems like a nice enough guy, but I would hope before anybody makes that kind of recommendation they would sit down with the person and do an evaluation."

Chuck Harmon,
St. Petersburg police
chief

St. Petersburg mayor candidate Wagman says he'd fire police chief Harmon 05/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 4:35pm]
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