ST. PETERSBURG — Gov. Charlie Crist threw his considerable political influence into his hometown's mayoral contest Monday, endorsing businessman Deveron Gibbons for mayor.
"Deveron Gibbons is the story of a hometown kid who's becoming a hometown champion for St. Pete," Gov. Crist said.
Deveron has long been friends with Crist and helped raise money and organize campaign operations for prior Crist campaigns, so the endorsement is no shock. But the embrace by Florida's most popular politician adds stature and credibility to Gibbons, 36, who is running his first campaign and is little known to many voters.
"While many people outside St. Petersburg know Deveron as smart, determined and experienced at every level of government, here in St. Pete, Deveron is known as someone who will go the distance to be helpful," Crist said of Gibbons, a vice president of Amscot Financial who has been active on boards including the Housing Authority and St. Petersburg College. "His resume of civic leadership — in business, education, housing and the arts — is well established, his fiscal conservatism is well-documented and his people-first attitude means St. Petersburg would prosper under another great mayor."
Crist has endorsed no other local candidate in Florida this election cycle, but his move is not unprecedented. Former Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed Mayor Rick Baker.
St. Petersburg's mayor's race is nonpartisan, but Democrats running for office are vying for Democratic support, just as Republicans are seeking Republican support. Gibbons is a Republican activist and fundraiser.
"It's great for Deveron. I'm sure they sought it and were happy to get it. It's not something that I ever thought about," candidate Bill Foster, also a registered Republican, said of Crist's endorsement. He said he knows Crist, but not well.
"He always calls me councilman, so I don't know that he knows my name,'' said Foster, who has earned another potent endorsement — from the local Police Benevolent Association.
Ten candidates are running for mayor, and field will be whittled to two after the Sept. 1 primary.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.