Monday, November 20, 2017
Politics

Person in chicken suit ruffles feathers in St. Petersburg mayoral race

RECOMMENDED READING


ST. PETERSBURG — The city is a little more than six weeks from a mayoral primary election for which thousands of dollars will be spent and dozens of ideas will be debated, but the buzz around the local political scene isn't focused on the candidates or the issues.

It's all about a chicken.

Specifically, the person behind it (and inside it).

Three times this week, someone in a bright yellow suit with wide blue eyes and a crooked beak has come to mayoral forums with a sign that says "Kathleen Ford: Too chicken to debate Foster + Kriseman."

Now, after days of speculation, a number of clues seem to point to a man with similar such mischief in his past: local blogger and political consultant Peter Schorsch, a fierce Ford detractor.

Despite adamantly denying any connection, Schorsch has made comments (online and off) that imply he's involved; several St. Petersburg political insiders say he's responsible; and a fellow consultant says Schorsch told him last week that he intended to pull the prank.

Last Friday, local attorney and political consultant Johnny Bardine met with Schorsch at Kahwa Coffee in St. Petersburg to discuss a council race.

There, Bardine said, Schorsch told him of his plan.

"He told me he was going to do something to put some pressure on Kathleen for dodging these forums," Bardine said. "And he specifically mentioned a guy in a chicken suit."

Schorsch denied that.

"Johnny is absolutely lying and he's doing so because I'm beating up on his client," he said, referring to District 8 council candidate Steve Galvin.

Bardine insisted he was just recalling what Schorsch told him, an idea he even endorsed.

At 5:47 p.m. on Tuesday, Schorsch called the Crossroads Area Neighborhood Association, which was hosting a political event that night at St. Petersburg College Gibbs Campus, to ask for directions.

Schorsch didn't show, but, 45 minutes after that call, the chicken and its sign made their first appearance — in front of Ford.

Not long after, at a mayoral debate downtown, Schorsch told a Times columnist to expect news on Ford's absence.

About 15 minutes later, as Mayor Bill Foster was making his introduction, the chicken walked in. Former state Rep. Rick Kriseman also was at that event, but Ford had said earlier she couldn't attend because of her prior commitment to Crossroads.

The mayor fumbled a few words. People laughed. They took photos — the intruder even posed in one for Schorsch.

"I was alerted that the chicken was going to be there," Schorsch said Thursday.

He said he received an anonymous message about the surprise, but declined to share the person's email address.

The next day, Ford missed a debate hosted by the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, where Schorsch is an officer.

As the moderator joked about Ford's absence, the chicken appeared via a back door before hastily leaving the same way.

"That was a genuine surprise," Schorsch said, "even to me."

But later that evening, in an online comment on tampabay.com, Schorsch posted this: "And the first phase of my 'Stop Kathleen Ford' program is a success. Not bad for a couple of blog posts and a chicken suit."

The statement seems to imply Schorsch is taking credit for the prank, but he insisted it's being misconstrued.

He said he meant that his blog posts about Ford's absences triggered coverage from the Times, which he believes inspired someone to don a chicken suit.

"I did not have anything to do with it," Schorsch said. "I think it's a wonderful idea, though."

Schorsch is no stranger to political trickery.

In the 2009 mayor's race, he was fired by candidate Jamie Bennett for giving out baseball tickets to the city's suite at Tropicana Field in a campaign folder that included an election contribution request.

Bennett denied knowing that Schorsch had done it. Schorsch said the candidate knew.

Schorsch also alleged that the two men had undertaken a variety of dirty campaign tactics to discredit opponents — including paying homeless people to heckle Ford at a news conference.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.

Comments
2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A second woman has accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching.Lindsay Menz tells CNN that Franken placed his hand on her bottom as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, two years into Fran...
Published: 11/20/17
Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s tourism chiefs at Visit Florida spend a lot of public money taking trips to exotic places to promote Florida as a top worldwide destination.Four former top-level staff members at the state’s tourism promotion and its c...
Published: 11/20/17
Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

TAMPA — A week ahead of the expected vote on a controversial tax reform bill, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited Tampa to deliver a message to small businesses: This bill will hurt you."Small businesses are the economic engine of F...
Updated: 3 hours ago
As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is willing to remove a contentious provision taking aim at the Affordable Care Act from the GOP tax overhaul plan if politically necessary, a move ...
Published: 11/19/17

Many Christian conservatives are backing Alabama’s Roy Moore

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama’s Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn’t fit the evangelical mold. ...
Published: 11/19/17
Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

WASHINGTON — It’s been nearly six years since the Senate Ethics Committee conducted a major investigation of a sitting senator. Next year, the panel could be working nonstop, deciding the fate of up to three lawmakers, including two facing allegation...
Published: 11/18/17
In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

UTICA, N.Y.Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath."You need a little bit more oil," the mechanic said."Five quarts wasn’t eno...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners recently decided to go after the pocketbooks of several residents who filed unsuccessful ethics complaints against one of their colleagues.If history is any indicator, the maneuver is more likely to cost taxp...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/19/17
As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

WASHINGTON — "You can do anything," Donald Trump once boasted, speaking of groping and kissing unsuspecting women. Maybe he could, but not everyone can. The man who openly bragged about grabbing women’s private parts — but denied he really did so — w...
Published: 11/17/17
Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Standing on the white marble steps of Alabama’s Capitol, Kayla Moore surrounded herself with two dozen other women Friday to defend husband Roy Moore against accusations of sexual misconduct that are dividing Republicans, and women...
Published: 11/17/17