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Rene Flowers says she paid price for supporting Bill Foster in St. Petersburg mayor's race

Fallout after an election is often par for the course, usually involving a candidate or an ally who gains or loses a political appointment in the traditional spoils of war.

But long before the votes were tallied in Tuesday's mayoral election in St. Petersburg, the peculiar wheels of partisan politics were turning against former City Council member Rene Flowers.

The St. Petersburg Democratic Club, the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP and the South St. Petersburg Democratic Club all removed Flowers from their executive committees.

Why? Flowers says it was because she supported Bill Foster in his successful campaign against Kathleen Ford. The mayor's race is nonpartisan, but Foster is a Republican and Ford a Democrat, and the local Democratic Party actively supported Ford.

Flowers has been a stalwart in the local NAACP and the two Democratic clubs. She served as chair of the NAACP's marketing committee, helped found the South St. Petersburg Democratic Club and recently served as its president, and served as vice president of the St. Petersburg Democratic Club.

As recently as 2001, Flowers served on the council with both Ford and Foster.

Flowers said soon after she decided to support Foster, she started receiving "hate mail" and phone calls saying, "The Republicans are attacking (Barack) Obama."

"Well, Bill Foster's not doing that," she said. "In a partisan race I will stick with my Democrats … but in a nonpartisan race, I choose to pick the best candidate. In my opinion, the best candidate was Bill Foster."

When reached by phone, county and city Democratic leaders denied removing Flowers from office. They say she resigned.

But an e-mail sent to the Times by the president of the St. Petersburg Democratic Club included the agenda for the club's Sept. 15 meeting.

Item No. 3: "Removal of Rene Flowers as Vice President for her endorsement of Bill Foster for Mayor."

According to club president Jack Killinsworth, all officers sign a loyalty oath promising not to support anyone other than a Democrat. He added that the state Democratic Party dictates that all officers sign the oath.

Has such an action been taken before?

"To my knowledge, no officer has ever supported any candidate other than a Democrat," said Killinsworth.

But Flowers disputes that.

In previous nonpartisan city races, leaders of the party have supported other Republican candidates, including outgoing Mayor Rick Baker, without the threat of removal. So why was it different this time around?

At the club's September meeting, Flowers said, she was told how she should word her resignation, including the words "I had a lapse in judgment." She said she was also advised to say her job prevented her from fulfilling her duties on the executive committee.

She said she refused to resign. She said she would reconsider her support of Foster if the committee could convince her she was supporting the wrong candidate.

"But they couldn't … so I was voted out," she said. "It was very sad. I still love my party, and I'm still a Democrat."

Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP was simmering a slightly different stew.

Branch president Ray Tampa was not-so-quietly supporting Ford. So Flowers' dismissal last week raised a few eyebrows across the city.

Flowers received a letter from the local branch asking her to step down from her position on the executive committee.

Reached by phone, Tampa denied that the move was political.

"Rene was one of several people who received the letter based on missing three meetings per the bylaws," said Tampa. "It had nothing to do with politics."

"The bylaws say you have to give reasons for your absence and it will be excused," responded Flowers, whose recent work schedule change conflicts with meetings.

Has the chapter ever enforced this rule?

Yes, said Tampa, but he was vague when pressed to offer specifics.

Although Flowers' support of Foster cost her personally, there's no denying that she helped Foster carry the black community. Ford was soundly beaten in precincts where she had the support of neighborhood leaders in Wildwood, Childs Park and much of District 7, which is represented by Wengay Newton, another Ford supporter.

So what's next for Flowers? "I do have plans to run for office; whether or not my party supports me is up to them. We'll see what's out there."

• • •

Now that the election is out of the way, let's talk about a new pole in St. Petersburg. I'm talking Sinn.

The recently opened bar at 340 First Ave. N, just south of Williams Park, has housed a cigar bar, a nightclub, a martini bar, a day spa and business offices in recent years.

The 5,500-square-foot establishment has plate-glass windows with SINN painted in bright red and orange letters. Inside, the walls are painted black and include a bar and a small stage with that single metal pole in the center.

The owner and president of the new venture is Heather Rardin, 35, a former manager of Mermaids, a place at 7500 Blind Pass Road in St. Pete Beach that bills itself as a "gentleman's club'' and features scantily clad dancers.

Rardin said she doesn't want SINN "to be a gentleman's club. I want it to be like an upscale bar and nightclub, and I want the girls to be there for entertainment."

Rardin said that she is now open as a bar, but not yet as a club, since the waitresses she plans to use need to be individually licensed by the city as entertainers.

The special licensing is required because Rardin said she wants her waitresses to appear on the stage and remove their clothes — but only down to bikinis. Their outfits will be red and black with headpieces that feature red horns.

Rardin said she's hoping that licensing for the waitresses will not be a problem.

Julie Weston, the city's director of development services, did not return calls for comment.

Sandra J. Gadsden is editor of Neighborhood Times. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or sgadsden@sptimes.com.

Rene Flowers says she paid price for supporting Bill Foster in St. Petersburg mayor's race 11/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 6, 2009 6:29pm]

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