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St. Petersburg Council incumbent Wengay Newton facing old foe Gershom Faulkner again

St. Petersburg

Incumbent Newton faces old foe again

When Gershom Faulkner ran against Wengay Newton in 2007 for the District 7 seat, many considered Faulkner the favorite.

Faulkner, a self-employed business and political consultant, had the endorsements of then-Mayor Rick Baker and other top officials. But it was Newton who won.

Now, Newton will face him again.

Faulkner is running for Newton's seat and again trying to get the city's political establishment behind him. He raised $1,025 through March. Newton has yet to start fundraising. Former City Council member Rene Flowers is consulting on Faulkner's campaign. Faulkner showed up Monday at St. Petersburg Together, an effort that council chairman Jim Kennedy is leading to discuss divisive community issues. The city is chipping in $5,000 to organize it and it has the full support of the council, with the exception of Newton , who said it's just more talk and no action.

"I knew that he opposed it, but that's not why I showed up," said Faulkner, 40. "I think it's worthwhile. I know that's a difference between us. I know what he's saying, but we have to be part of the dialogue."

Another way Faulkner will set himself apart from Newton is his stance on gay rights. Faulkner lost some Democratic support last time around when he said he couldn't support the "gay lifestyle."

Now Faulkner says he believes that was offensive. After speaking with several gay people since then, he said he's been told that they didn't choose to be gay, that it's a biological characteristic. He said he doesn't necessarily believe that, but is willing to change the way he talks about gay issues to be more sensitive. He wouldn't say whether he supports gay civil unions.

"That's not an issue that comes up before the City Council," he said.

But every year, the City Council signs a proclamation supporting the St. Pete Pride celebration, one of the city's biggest events. Faulkner said he'd support the parade — "I will treat it as any other parade in this economy" — he wouldn't say whether he'd sign the proclamation.

"I'd have to take a look at it and make sure I don't contradict who I am or my Christian beliefs," Faulkner said.

In 2007, Newton criticized Faulkner's position on gay rights. When asked Friday about Faulkner's latest thoughts on the issue, Newton laughed, and then changed the subject.

"I don't know about all that," he said. "I want people to evaluate me on my body of work. He doesn't have a body of work."

Another candidate is vying for Polson's seat

Herb Polson's District 1 St. Petersburg City Council seat is a hot commodity.

Two months after Polson announced he wouldn't seek re-election, four candidates have already announced they want to represent the city's western neighborhoods.

Last week Joshua Shulman, a 35-year-old financial planner with Wells Fargo, filed to run. He follows former City Council member Robert Kersteen, attorney Charles Gerdes, and Monica Abbott, a community activist.

Shulman moved to Pinellas County 12 years ago after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. In 2006, he earned an MBA from the University of Florida. He graduated last year from Leadership St. Pete, a training ground for the city's political class. And last month he and his wife had a son, their first.

"I have a lot going on, but I'll always have a lot going on, and getting involved like this has always been an interest of mine," he said.

Shulman said he's concerned that the city has lost its way of late, getting bogged down in budgetary minutiae rather than searching for new opportunities.

"We need a long-term view," he said. "Otherwise, we'll be stuck in the same cycle until there's some external force that we don't control."

Dwelling on budget cuts only is a dead-end, Shulman said. Because of the Save Our Homes 3 percent cap, it'll take at least 15 years to get much of the property tax revenue the city has lost in the past four years, so the city better come up with other ideas, he said.

"That's what we should be focused on, not just if the library is going to be open a couple of hours on a Sunday," Shulman said.

St. Petersburg Council incumbent Wengay Newton facing old foe Gershom Faulkner again 05/21/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 21, 2011 4:31am]
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