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Showing support for USF in budget showdown

ST. PETERSBURG

Mayor, City Council speak up against USF funding cuts

Not to be outdone by Tampa Bay officials who have shown support for the University of South Florida in its budget showdown with state Sen. JD Alexander, Mayor Bill Foster has weighed in with his own tough talk.

"I want to express the city's strong opposition to the current Senate proposal to cut funding to our universities by $400 million, and particularly to slashing the University of South Florida's … budget allocation by nearly 60 percent," Foster wrote in a letter that he had hand-delivered to Senate President Mike Haridopolos. "These cuts will have far-reaching, adverse impacts on the economies of St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay region, and the state of Florida."

USF has a St. Petersburg campus that Foster, not usually known for using the bully pulpit the mayor's office provides him, stressed was vital to the economic vitality of the region.

"The Senate proposal would gut the College of Marine Science, one of USF's most prestigious and respected departments and located in St. Petersburg," Foster wrote. "This premier consortium is responsible for creating over 3,400 jobs through its operations and expenditures, and contributes approximately $251 million to Pinellas County's economy.

"The threat these proposed cuts pose to the long-term educational prospects of USF's students and USF's hard-won recognition as one of the top research institutions in the country will be imperiled, the region will suffer the loss of intellectual talent, and the education and employment opportunities of Florida's future working professionals will be diminished. I strongly urge the Senate vote against these cuts."

The St. Petersburg City Council joined the fray as well, voting 7-1 to approve a resolution urging lawmakers to reconsider the USF cuts. Only council chairwoman Leslie Curran opposed the measure, saying she preferred a more positive approach, such as encouraging delegation lawmakers to oppose the cuts.

A pitch for 2013 mayoral race already?

Although the mayor's race is more than 21 months away, Mayor Bill Foster already faces a challenger.

Council chairwoman Leslie Curran, right?

Nope.

Okay, how about state Rep. Rick Kriseman?

Guess again.

Rick Baker?

No.

(Drum roll)

Try retired builder Paul Congemi.

Congemi, 55, is a veteran of mayoral politics, having run in 2009. He was the first to announce in that race as well.

In May of that year he was banned from a KFC restaurant at 34th Street N after cursing out several employees. When police arrived, Congemi said: "Don't touch me. I am running for mayor and once I get elected, you will be fired." Asked later at a campaign forum if this would be an abuse of power, Congemi said it instead would be "justice."

He didn't mince words. He said the police department was corrupt and that he'd fire police Chief Chuck Harmon if elected. He said "homosexuality is an abomination, according to the Bible." He didn't take campaign contributions. He was in favor of casino gambling in Pinellas County because surplus revenue could be passed on to taxpayers.

Alas, he garnered a meager 0.33 percent of the vote in the primary.

In a letter to the city clerk announcing his campaign for the 2013 mayoral race, it's clear that Congemi expects a different result.

"This is Paul Congemi writing to you," his letter states. "You see I will be running for mayor again. Only this time things are different. I have my own political party. I have 105,000 members in the state of Florida. I have established my own political party. I want to run for mayor again. See you soon."

Showing support for USF in budget showdown 02/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 18, 2012 3:31am]
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